Saturday, 3 August 2013

Memories haunt in Shyam Selvadurai's 'The Hungry Ghosts'

Past and present collide in Giller Prize-winner's new novel

      Regardless of how hard one tries, it is impossible to shed the past. This is a realization that Shivan Rassiah, the protagonist of Shyam Selvadurai's latest novel, The Hungry Ghosts, must grapple with.
As the novel opens, Shivan — who emigrated from war-torn Sri Lanka to Canada as a young man — is preparing to travel back to the country of his birth to bring his ailing grandmother to Ontario. But as he prepares for his departure, Shivan finds himself haunted by memories of loss, desire and his grandmother's domineering presence in his life.  Born in Sri Lanka in 1965 to a Sinhalese mother and a Tamil father, Shyam Selvadurai immigrated to Canada at the age of 19. His parents were members of Sri Lanka's conflicting ethnic groups — a major theme that underlies hiSelvadurai's writing.

Selvadurai's debut novel — 1994's Funny Boy — was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Books in Canada First Novel Award. He followed that up with the short story collection Cinnamon Gardens in 1998. Currently living in Toronto, Selvadurai's latest novel — The Hungry Ghosts — took him 13 years to write and is his first novel to be set in Canada.

Outside of his own writing, Selvadurai heads Write to Reconcile, a project designed to give young Sri Lankan writers a platform to write about memory, reconciliation and war in a manner that challenges official government versions of that country's civil war. He plans to publish an anthology of the project's writing this fall.

Selvadurai recently sat down with Karry Taylor of the Calgary Journal to discuss writing, memory, and the role of fiction. 

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