Funny Boy is the first novel published by openly gay Sri Lankan writer Shyam Selvadurai. Of mixed Tamil and Sinhala heritage, Selvadurai joined his family in their decision to immigrate to Canada in 1983 in the wake of rioting stimulated partly by the racial divide, essentially pitting his own multiculturalism against a full-blooded ancestry. Selvadurai’s decision to live openly as a homosexual also places him at odds against the conventional views of Sri Lankan society.
This outsider status doubtlessly informed his first novel and perhaps was also partly responsible for the extent to which the stories which comprise the book resonated among those who saw fit to honor Funny Boy with the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award. In addition to that honor, Funny Boy was also recognized south of the border with the Lambda Literary Award and by the American Library Association’s choice to name it one of their Notable Books of the year.
Funny Boy is suggestively informed by the autobiographical similarities of the life of its author; its narrative takes the form of six self-contained yet linked stories about a boy growing up in a wealthy Tamil family coming to terms with his own sexuality as well as the political turmoil surrounding him as he matures from a pre-pubescent 7 year old into a teenager. These coming-of-age stories lead inexorably toward what was also a defining historical moment in the life of the author: those 1983 explosion of simmering tensions between Sinhala and Tamil ethnic cultures into full-blown violent rioting which came to be known as Black July. Black July has come to be marked as the commencement of the Sri Lankan Civil War, which Shyam Selvadurai managed to escape along with his family.
While Funny Boy covers issues directly related to the known facts of the life of its author, including homosexuality and Black July, Shyam Selvadurai has consistently rejected attempts to situate his novel firmly within the realm of thinly veiled autobiography-as-fiction, insisting that the specific factual incidents of his life are markedly different from those of his novel’s protagonist.