Roshi Fernando
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Buy *Homesick* by Roshi Fernandoonline

Roshi Fernando
288 pages
July 2012
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Children of destiny, Preethi and her siblings grow older in the shadow of their parents, Sri Lankan emigrants to London. Their journey has become part of family mythology. On New Year's Eve in 1983, Shamini and her husband, Victor, fight to keep the children wedded to their heritage as the world changes around them. While Shamini talks endlessly of money and wasted opportunities, Preethi acknowledges that Sri Lanka is not hers to understand any more.

Part of Preethi’s journey is to realize that there’s no going back in life, only moving forward to better things. She looks to the room full of pink-sarree'd ladies and men who smell of cologne mixed with smoke and sees Basit, who drinks and gambles. The black sheep of his family who was sent to England as soon as he had earned enough money, Basit hates this sense of banishment. He thinks of a world where he could have been something if he hadn’t squandered it all.

Fernando’s exquisite word choice and phrasing drive this novel, though her complex literary mosaic of human longing is sometimes confusing. Shamini, who does not want to be swallowed up by “this country,” becomes part of the "heavy blackness." Kumar, who is falsely accused of murdering a child, must endure prison's boredoms and unpredictable violence. Young bi-racial Jenny and her husband, Mike, journey to Oman, where Jenny’s vehemence and downright refusal to contemplate a permanent move disquiets them both.

Homesick is pastiche of images, moments in time, and stages in relationships, oblique encounters bereft of the usual machinery to connect one part to another in linear narrative form. Yet a story does emerge, a story in which little happens but much is revealed. Issues of racism are tackled in Preethi’s teenage crush on Ollie, Freddie’s best friend and the beautiful “golden boy” from her school. Each is aware of the other’s sexuality, and in the kiss of sweetness, Preethi longs to taste the eroticism of becoming a woman, and Ollie, the eroticism of making a choice to kiss Preethi. When Preethi befriends Danny the Mong, a kid from the wrong side of the tracks, the situation fuels the novel’s complicated dance of class and circumstance.

When older Preethi attends a barn dance, she allows herself to be dragged back into an “illusory evening.” She remembers how these people were once her friends. She reconnects with Freddie, but their once easy friendship, renewed by distance and by time, seems unable to undo the poignant emotional cracks made during the intervening years. Married to loyal Simon, Preethi’s nature is to cling desperately to her childhood memories, savoring the closeness she enjoyed with Freddie while failing to admit to herself that she might once have been in love with him.

Fernando’s stream-of-consciousness prose allows us to see the relative experiences of the characters, though the plot tends to plod as she paints a detailed and well-textured portrait of people in a state of flux. Perhaps the author is attempting to channel an authoritative postmodern moral voice in the vein of Hanif Kureishi? We certainly feel sympathy for the circumstances of those whose lives conflict because of how they feel about the past, the future, and how they relate to each other.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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