Cover image for Cinnamon gardens
Cinnamon gardens
Selvadurai, Shyam, 1965-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, [1999]

Physical Description:
357 pages ; 25 cm
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Set among the upper classes in the gracious, repressive world of 1920s Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Cinnamon Gardens tells the brilliantly intertwined stories of two extraordinary characters.

Annalukshmi is a strong-willed young woman whose family is intent upon arranging a proper marriage for her, forcing her to question whether the independence she craves will doom her to a life without love and companionship. Her uncle Balendran, respectably married, struggles to suppress his secret desire for men. The sudden arrival of a former lover, however, threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world. Both Annalukshmi and Balendran must determine if it is possible to pursue personal happiness without compromising the happiness of others. And both must draw on hidden reserves to resist the pressures of society and, even more crushing, the expectations they have placed on themselves.

This masterfully plotted novel takes us beneath the polished veneer of fragrant gardens and manners to reveal a world of splintered families, forbidden emotions, and lives destroyed by prejudice. With its sensuous atmosphere, richly drawn characters, and astonishing ability to conjure time and place, Cinnamon Gardens is a riveting novel that speaks of the issues readers grapple with today, while evoking the great historical works of fiction they love.

Selvadurai's critically acclaimed first novel, Funny Boy, was hailed as "first rate fiction from a brilliant writer whose next book cannot arrive here quickly enough" (Kirkus Reviews). Now, Cinnamon Gardens--an unforgettable tale of history, family, love, and destiny--confirms Selvadurai's promise as one of the most distinctive and talented novelists from a new generation.

Author Notes

Shyam Selvadurai is a novelist and writer for television. He was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1965. Selvadurai earned a B.F.A. in creative writing from York University.

Selvadurai has written for the Canadian television shows Many Voices and Inside Voices and contributed to several journals and anthologies. Selvadurai's first novel, Funny Boy, was nominated for the Giller Prize and received the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award. It also earned the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Men's Fiction.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The evocative title comes from the name of a suburb of Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), in 1927. This world, of Tamil Christians and Hindus, of heated discussions over self-rule and suffrage, of class divisions and control, and of the place of women, is both wildly exotic and oddly modern. Selvadurai has written an almost Victorian novel, with the lives of his characters intertwined and interrelated, rich with the heat and scent of British colonial overlay on an ancient society. He has tied together the bloodlines and relations of the two main characters: Annalukshmi, who at 22 has qualified as a teacher despite the strong objections of her well-placed family, and her uncle Balendran, who suffers under his father's heavy and powerful hand and who struggles with the love that dare not speak its name. When Balendran's first love, a man named Richard whom he has not seen in 20 years, arrives from England to study Ceylon's political situation, a delicate and bittersweet reunion rings a chord of romance and longing that echoes throughout the story. Meanwhile, Annalukshmi takes strength from her studies, her reading, and her growing insights into the choices made by her school headmistress and her mother, sisters, and friends, to extricate herself from the compromises of marriage. Uncle's and niece's paths cross naturally in the telling of their tales. Wry references to love, always in terms of fever or illness, grace notes of description for a lock of hair or the fold of a sari, and elegant chapter headings taken from the Tirukkural, the famed work of Tamil philosophy, add to the ambience generated by this beguiling novel. --GraceAnne A. DeCandidoAdult Books Young adult recommendations in this issue have been contributed by the Books for Youth editorial staff and by reviewers Sue-Ellen Beauregard, Ann Bouricius, Nancy Bent, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, Melanie Duncan, Patty Engelmann, Diana Tixier Herald, Roberta Johnson, Leone McDermott, Karen Simonetti, and Candace Smith. Titles recommended for teens are marked with the following symbols: YA, for books of general YA interest; YA/C, for books with particular curriculum value; YA/L, for books with a limited teenage audience; YA/M, for books best suited to mature teens.

Publisher's Weekly Review

FYI: Born in Sri Lanka, Selvadurai lives in Toronto. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In 1927 Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Annalukshmi is an ambitious young teacher who longs to escape the traditions of arranged marriages and obedient wives. Balendran, her uncle, is also trapped, caught between duty to his father, the Mudaliyar, and his feelings for Richard, his former lover. In Selvadurai's restrained second novel (following Funny Boy), Annalukshmi and Balendran must each come to terms with tradition and the sacrifices necessary to find the freedom they desperately desire. Selvadurai has created an insulated world of quiet racism and respectable oppression, where members of the Ceylonese upper class employ the same condescension as their British rulers. The story and characters are subtly written; there are no grand confrontations or earthshaking conclusions, which sometimes leaves the reader wanting more. What emerges is an introspective and unobtrusive look at a time and place unfamiliar to most readers. Recommended for large public libraries.ÄEllen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-Colombo, Ceylon, in 1927 is a fragrant, lush, and beautiful city. For the Kandiah family-a mother and three young daughters living in a simple bungalow within the exclusive Cinnamon Gardens suburb-it is also politically complex, socially restricting, and heading irreversibly into an unknowable future. The eldest daughter, Annalukshmi, wants to be a teacher-but according to the rules of her time and society, she must relinquish that work if she marries. Negotiating the often-illusory pathways of romantic hopefulness, she ultimately makes some surprisingly mature choices. In counterpoint to Annalukshmi's story is that of her uncle; he loves his wife and his son but continues to struggle with his homosexuality and is thrown into crisis when his old lover arrives in Colombo. Through these characters, and others, the many segments of this diverse colonial society come to life. Readers see how beliefs, values, and personality characteristics determine people's lives and actions-and how those values, though exercised with the best of intentions, can be completely at odds with those of others. In his compassion for his characters, in the telling details of dress and architecture, in the dialogue that captures in a few words the essence of universal issues, Selvadurai shows the genius of a Jane Austen. Yet, with equal adroitness, he portrays the national and international, religious, political, historical, and cultural controversies of a much larger stage. Thoughtful teens can lose themselves in the romanticism of Sri Lanka's past and possibly gain a new understanding of their own time and place.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.