Funny Boy is a story about a seven year old boy Arjun (Arjie) who goes on to experience not only the ups and downs that accompany the discovery of one’s sexuality but also the harsh reality of the real world. Told by the point of view of Arjie, Funny Boy is not just about the taboo topic of homosexuality in a close-minded society, it is also a story that tells how political and regional conflicts affect people’s lives. Though Arjie’s homosexuality and how he understands it and deals with it are some of the important themes in the story, the political conflict between the Tamils and Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka where Arjie resides with his family also play a very important role in shaping the story. It tells the readers about the sufferings of people from both sides since Arjie is from a mixed Tamil/Sinhalese family and since the narrator is Arjie himself, we get a personal view of these conflicts affecting innocent people caught in the crossfire.
Divided into six chapters, the first few parts capture Arjie’s childhood and recall the various episodes that introduce the whole family and the protagonist Arjie himself. The later chapters start to focus on the political tension brewing up in the nation and Arjie’s discovery of his own sexuality.
The first story, “Pigs Can’t Fly,” takes place during the “spend the days.” The grandchildren of the family are playing a favorite game of theirs called “bride-bride” where Arjie is always the bride and the girls love it when because he plays the part so well and see nothing wrong with it. However, the peace is soon disrupted when Arjie and all his female cousins are playing, but Tanuja, nicknamed Her Fatness, refuses to let Arjie be the bride. The rest of the girls take Arjie’s side and shoo away Tanuja which leads to Tanuja’s mother, Aunty Kanthy to come to see what was the matter. She sees Arjie dressed up in a saree and cruelly drags him to the living room where everyone is gathered. Seeing Arjie, a boy, dressed up in saree and playing a game meant for girls, his parents are embarrassed. An uncle calls Arjie “a funny one.” His mother explains that he cannot play with the girls anymore because “the sky is so high and pigs can’t fly, that’s why.”
In “Radha Aunty,” Radha Aunty has returned from America. Though she is not all what Arjie had imagined her to be, she and Arjie quickly become close, and are involved in a performance of The King and I. Rajan Nagendra, an acquaintance of Radha Aunty proposes to Radha, but she is reluctant to accept. She becomes friends with Anil Jayasinghe, a Sinhalese who is also involved in the play. The family tells Radha to end her friendship with Anil, and Radha leaves for Jaffna to forget about Anil. On the train back home, she and several other Tamils are attacked by Sinhalese violent crowds, and soon after, Radha is engaged to Rajan. These events lead Arjie’s afther to explain to Arjie about the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict and Arjie comes to realize how serious the matter is.
In “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” Uncle Daryl returns to Sri Lanka from Australia. Arjie’s father is in Europe on a business trip at this time. Daryl aims to investigate assertions of government torture. Arjie slowly becomes aware that there is something going on between his mother and Uncle Daryl. Arjie gets sick, and Amma takes him to the country where Uncle Daryl visits them. Daryl also goes to Jaffna, where there are violent events taking place. Arjie’s mother requests Daryl not to interfere but Dayl continues on his way and goes missing after. Daryl’s body is found on the beach. They are told that he drowned, but Arjie and his mother suspect that he was murdered first. Arjie’s mother tries to dig deeper about the death of Uncle Daryl, but the lawyer states that there is nothing she can do. He references the three wise monkeys and suggests that she behaves similarly.
Arjie’s father’s friend Jegan begins to work with him at his hotel in the chapter “Small Choices.” Jegan was know to associate with the Tamil Tigers, but claims that he broke all connections long ago. Jegan also befriends Arjie, who starts to notice his homosexuality for the first time. The political tensions in the country continues to build, and Jegan is accused of plotting to assassinate a Tamil politician. His room at the hotel is vandalized, and Arjie’s father fires Jegan, who may go back to his violent past after all though it is not told with certainty.
In the next-to-last chapter, “The Best School of All,” Arjie’s father becomes suspicious about Arjie’s sexuality and mannerism and decides that Arjie will be transferred to Victoria Academy. He says the school will school Arjie into becoming a man. There Arjie meets Shehan and also the school principal. Arjie is warned by his own brother about Shehan’s sexuality claiming that Shehan is gay and to stay away from him. But Arjie and Shehan continue to spend more time together, and Arjie becomes more and more attracted to his friend. The school principal asks Arjie to recite several poems at an upcoming school event. “Black Tie” says that these poems are important because they will plead with the government not the reorganize the school. Arjie is nervous, and fails to recall all the lines of the poem. The principal punishes Arjie for not being able to recite poems perfectly and also beats Shehan for not helping Arjie memorise his lines. However, Arjie realises that this punishment was metted put to a certain crowd of students, those like Shehan and Arjie, the not so “manly” ones. One day, Shehan kisses Arjie, who begins to understand and acknowledge his own sexuality. Soon after they have their first sexual encounter, in Arjie’s parents’ garage. Later, Arjie is deeply ashamed and disgusted by himself, and believes he has failed his family and betrayed their trust. Still later, Arjie purposefully messes up his poem recital again after Shehan breaks down because of Black Tie’s frequent beatings.
In the final story in Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, “Riot Journal: An Epilogue,” the tensions between the two sides, the Tamils and the Sinhalese, in Sri Lanka has arrived to a head. Rioters ravage the area, burning down the Tamil houses and businesses throughout the town of Colombo. The family runs for safety, and hides in a neighbour’s house. They go into hiding after an angry mob comes to burn down their home. Soon after that, their hotel is burned down, and Ammachi and Appachi, Arjie’s grandparents, are killed. This is finally the moment when the family decides to leave the country. Arjie and Shehan make love for one last time, before he is forced to say goodbye, never to see his friend and lover again. Then Arjie and his family leave their country, their homeland Sri Lanka and move to Canada.