Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Facing out to Sea

Facing out to Sea, a novel by Peter Adamson, was published in 1997.
A young hotel waiter in Sri Lanka moves effortlessly between the elegant surroundings at work and the urban slum where he lives. Adamson contrasts the two worlds very well and develops interesting, credible characters. His descriptions of life in urban slums are vivid, and are so true to life that he even provides solutions for improving the lot of slum residents. Because of Peter Adamson's long career spent travelling in developing countries, plus filming and writing about development matters, he has much credibility. While this is a great novel about human relationships and hardships, it doubles as an extremely interesting lesson in development economics and slum improvement.

It is difficult to choose any one excerpt from an entire novel as a sample of what is in store for a reader. I choose this one because I'd like you to read it aloud, while you imagine the scene.

Page 4
On the verandah of No. 29, Vijay Jayasinghe is slowly smoking a cigarette. It is a little after seven in the evening. Light swarms of midges are gathering over the drain and the strip of sky between the roofs has turned to indigo, smudged with the smoke of fires. On the latrine wall a neon light fizzes. A few of the older children of the garden are sitting beneath it, doing their homework under an inspectorate of insects. Somewhere a voice is raised and a dog begins to bark. As is usual for the hour, the women are embedded in the recesses of their homes, scouring pans with ashes from the dying fires, stacking the blackened pots, pouring the cooking oil back into its bottles, lowering the bed-boards, smoothing the worn covers, spacing out the garments that have bunched together in the middle of coir ropes slung diagonally across dark rooms. Outside, the men are relaxing on the verandahs, talking in tones which fall imperceptibly with the light, their glowing cigarette ends tracing their eloquence in the evening air.

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