Romesh Gunesekera is one of the most prominent writers today who has introduced Sri Lanka to readers all over the world. A reader with no prior knowledge of Sri Lanka, or the game of cricket, comes away from Gunesekara’s latest novel, The Match, with a wealth of information about both.
Gunesekara, who was born in Sri Lanka, raised in the Phillipines, and who has lived in London since 1971, is an interpreter of the displacement and discontent that plays among inner and outer landscapes. In The Match, Gunesekara orients the reader to the sensibilities of young Sunny, who lives a rather sheltered life in Manila and longs to play cricket. Sunny continuously attempts to negotiate a distant relationship with his father and the loss of his mother, a former pianist, who had more time for her music students than for her own son.
Gunesekara paints Sunny in all the colors of adolescence and young adulthood: brooding, hopeful, desperate, and bored. Amidst it all is Sunny’s intense interest in Tina, a clever and lively Sri Lankan girl interested in cricket, who provides an intriguing contrast to his lackadaisical friends who like to drink and smoke marijuana. Guneskara’s rendering of Sunny’s desire and eagerness to appear to be more than he is to Tina, both on and off the cricket pitch, is poignant and hints at his general ignorance of females, borne of the fact that he had no relationship with his mother.
But the novel is titled The Match, after all, and what is at stake is the game of cricket. While the first “match,” early on in the novel, turns out to be a hard scrabble game cobbled together by Sunny and his father, it is indicative of everything Sunny had hoped that it wouldn’t be: anticlimactic and mildly humiliating. While the game of cricket is always contrasted against the every-churning political world, Sunny moves to London to pursue a degree he finds unsatisfying in a country he finds, at first, to be cold and inscrutable. Still, London will become his permanent home. It becomes clear early on that Sunny will go through life vaguely disenchanted by just about everything. Gunesekara is consistent in this characterization of Sunny, but this consistency may lose some readers’ interest along the way.
The novel picks up its pitch considerably when Sunny goes to the Oval in London to watch Sri Lanka play against India. Here the story moves away from the humdrum existence Sunny has continuously found himself in, to a game that holds great meaning for the connections Sunny might have made over a lifetime. Do those connections come to fruition? It doesn’t matter. The Matchmakes clear that it is the journey, not the destination, which truly counts.
|Michelle Reale is an academic librarian and a fiction writer, living in the suburbs of Philadelphia.|