Thursday, Jul 07, 2022
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Rhodes, O’Reilly, Murali...

A brilliant first novel on cricket in Lanka is quirky and profound. It also revives the metaphor of sport as life.

Rhodes, O’Reilly, Murali... Rhodes, O’Reilly, Murali...

If the Great American Novel, as Philip Roth argued, has to be about the Great American Sport of baseball—a conceit Roth himself put to use in a largely unsuccessful work with that title—then it is entirely plausible that the great Sri Lankan novel has to be about cricket. Few sports consume a country as cricket consumes Sri Lanka, and few activities transcend the ethnic, social and linguistic divides in that nation as this great sport does. Given the premise, it is entirely possible that the Great Sri Lankan Novel has been written—and that this wonderful book is it.

Of course, I have not read enough Sri Lankan fiction to substantiate such a claim. Nevertheless, Shehan Karunatilaka’s extraordinary first novel is manifestly a work of genius—one that manages to be about Sri Lanka without being overtly about it, and seems to be about cricket but goes well beyond it. His story is about an embittered, dying alcoholic sportswriter, W.G. Karunasena, obsessed with unearthing the mystery of the disappearance—from Sri Lanka and from the record books—of a brilliant cricketer, part-Tamil, part-Sinhala, who might just be the greatest bowler who ever lived.

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