Funny Boy Summary

Shyam Selvadurai

Funny Boy

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Funny Boy Summary

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Funny Boy, by Shyam Selvadurai (1994), is a novel about coming of age. It won several awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for gay male fiction and the Books in Canada First Novel Award. Selvadurai grew up in Sri Lanka, where the novel is set. It is composed of six separate but related stories about a boy from age seven to fourteen, who grows up within a wealthy Tamil family. He explores his sexuality and sexual identity, as well as the Sinhala-Tamil tensions that would lead to the riots of 1983.

The first story, “Pigs Can’t Fly,” takes place during the “spend the days.” The grandchildren of the family are playing a favorite game of theirs called “bride-bride.” Arjie and all his female cousins are playing, but Tanuja, nicknamed Her Fatness, refuses to let Arjie be the bride. The grownups find the children and scold them; an uncle calls Arjie “a funny one.” His mother explains that he cannot play with the girls anymore because “the sky is so high and pigs can’t fly, that’s why.”

In “Radha Aunty,” Radha Aunty has returned from America. She and Arjie become close, and are involved in a performance of The King and I. Rajan Nagendra proposes to Radha, but she is reluctant to accept. She becomes friends with Anil Jayasinghe, a Sinhalese also involved in the play. The family tells Radha to end the friendship, and Radha leaves for Jaffna to forget Anil. On the train back, she and several Tamils are attacked, and soon after, Radha is engaged to Rajan. These events explain to Arjie what the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict means.

In “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” Daryl Uncle returns to Sri Lank from Australia. Arjie’s father is in Europe on a business trip. Daryl is meant to investigate allegations of government torture. Arjie slowly becomes aware of the hidden affair between Amma and Daryl. He gets sick, and Amma takes him to the country. Daryl visits. Daryl also goes to Jaffna, where there is violence. Daryl’s body is found on the beach. They are told he drowned, but they suspect he was murdered first. Amma tries to dig deeper, but the lawyer says there is nothing she can do. He references the three wise monkeys and implores her to behave the same.

Appa’s friend Jegan begins to work with Appa at his hotel in “Small Choices.” Jegan used to associate with the Tamil Tigers, but says he broke all connections long ago. Jegan also befriends Arjie, who notices his homosexuality for the first time. The political tensions continue to build, and Jegan is accused of plotting to assassinate a Tamil politician. His room at the hotel is vandalized, and Appa fires Jegan, who may go back to his violent past after all.

In the penultimate story, “The Best School of All,” Appa decides that Arjie will be transferred to Victoria Academy. He says the school will force Arjie to become a man. Arjie meets Shehan and also the school principal. Arjie is warned that Shehan is gay and to stay away from him. But Arjie and Shehan spend more time together, and Arjie becomes more and more attracted to his friend. Arjie is asked by the principal to read several poems at an upcoming school event. “Black Tie” says they are important because they will plead with the government not the reorganize the school. Arjie is nervous, and forgets all the lines of the poem. The principal beats Arjie and Shehan for not helping Arjie memorise his lines. One day, Shehan kisses Arjie, who begins to understand his own sexuality. They have their first sexual encounter, alone in Arjie’s parents’ garage. Later, Arjie is deeply ashamed of himself, and believes he has failed his family and betrayed their trust. Still later, Arjie purposefully screws up his poem again after Shehan breaks down because of Black Tie’s frequent beatings.

In the final story in Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, “Riot Journal: An Epilogue,” the tensions between the two sides in Sri Lanka has come to a head. Rioters ravage the area, burning down the Tamil houses and businesses throughout the town of Colombo. The family runs for safety, and hides in a neighbour’s house. They go into hiding after an angry mob comes to burn down their home. Soon after that, their hotel is burned down, and Ammachi and Appachi, Arjie’s grandparents, are killed. This is finally the moment when the family decides to leave the country. There is one last chance for Arjie and Shehan to make love together, before he is forced to say goodbye, never to see his friend and lover again. Then Arjie and his family leave Sri Lanka and move to Canada.