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Literature / Funny Boy

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A 1994 novel by Shyam Selvadurai. It is a sort of autobiographical fiction: the main character Arjie Chelvaratnam, like the author, grew up in Sri Lanka in the midst of ethnic persecution of the Tamils by the Sinhalese. This unrest culminates, for Arjie, in the 1983 Black July mob riots. (Riots is an understatement; maybe "pogrom" is more appropriate.) Arjie starts the book as a young boy and ends as an adolescent. Given equal importance with the civil unrest aspect of his life is his family's fears that he might be—and his slow realization that he is—"funny": that is, gay.

Was adapted into a 2020 film written and directed by Deepa Mehta.

Not to be confused with the discontinued novels by Dan Gutman.

This novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Gayngst: Naturally for a novel about a gay adolescent. Arjie worries that he has betrayed his family with his sexual desires.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: A fact of life. One character was completely cut off from her family for marrying outside her ethnic group. Radha's parents and siblings definitely act as though this power is a given, and although Radha is willing to defy them, this is a very serious decision.
  • The Patriarch: Arjie's father has ultimate authority over the family. For example, his wife wants to go to Canada to escape the conflict, but he would rather stay, so they stay. Arjie experiences him as someone who is not very involved in the day-to-day life of the family, but who makes the major decisions.
  • Racist Grandma: Ammachi ("Grandma") has the most virulent reaction to Radha's relationship with Anil, and talks openly about her approval of the terrorist Tamil group, the Tigers. Possibly a subversion in that this actually isn't so far from how other family members feel at different points in the book, but Ammachi is vocal about it before the others are.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Anil and Radha are from families on different sides of the ethnic conflict. Even so, it looks as though they're determined to get married, until Radha is violently attacked by Sinhals. She breaks up with Anil in the aftermath of the trauma.
  • Tragic Bigot: Ammachi hates Sinhalese because her father was killed by Sinhals.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Arjie's mother goes on a quest for justice in a case of police brutality. The women in the poor neighborhood shut out her attempts to interview a servant boy, remind her that she could get less privileged people killed or tortured with her inquiries, and throw rocks at her.