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4.4 out of 5 stars19
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 15 May 2011
This is an outstanding novel - one that puts a Sri Lankan author, for the first time, on a level with the best contemporary Indian writers. It is ostensibly about cricket - indeed is about cricket - but you don't need to share the author's obsession with his country's national sport to respond to his absorbing shaggy-dog story of the legendary "Chinaman" bowler, Pradeep Matthew. This is a book with a flawless ear for language and one that evokes the whole character of Sri Lanka, its dire politics and blighted history, and yet is drenched in affection for the island. Not that you need have any previous interest in Sri Lanka, any more than cricket. To describe it as "the great Sri Lankan novel" - as the publishers do - is something of an understatement. It's one of the best novels you'll read - any time, and from any country.
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on 4 June 2011
'Chinaman' is a very well written piece of prose which manages to maintain the fine balance between being a book about sport (cricket) and a story about one mans passion. The handy descriptions provided by the author make the book an interesting read even for non-cricket fans / followers.

While the book is a piece of fiction, there are several parts where the author manages to provide a very authentic backdrop which doubles as a commentary of a Sri Lanka at odds with itself. Descriptions of the 1996 World Cup victory, the loss in 1992 against Australia, the finger wagging defiance of Arjuna Ranatunga against Ross Emerson, the Murali chucking controversy etc provide an almost documentary / non-fiction kind of a feel and provide a window into the mind of a Sri Lankan cricket fan. While the author has, in parts, also focused on other parts of the Sri Lankan reality, like the long drawn civil war, the emphasis quickly returns to cricket, which remains the essense of the story.

I was very skeptical about how Mr Karunatilake would end the book, however, he laid all my apprehensions to rest with a well thought out conclusion apt for the complex twists and turns of the story.

My only criticism of the book is that in certain parts Mr Karunatilake slips into utilizing fairly unbelievable co-incidences to move the story forward and it seems like he was at a loss of ideas at those stages in the story. However, such instances are not more than a couple and as such do little to dampen the rest of the book.

All in all, a good read, and a welcome to Mr Karunatilake to the group of excellant South Asian writers.
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on 28 June 2011
This is a gem!

In many ways this book approaches the level of Shane Warne to Mike Gatting - the greatest ball ever bowled. The book gives the reader a wonderful insight into the workings of Sri Lankan society and it is done with a wonderful affection and love. The references to cricket are everywhere and a love of that game certainly enhances the pleasure from the book.

It is a great story with a brilliant unexpected ending. What a shame someone called stumps and it all had to end.
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on 10 January 2012
This book is funny, heartwarming, full of awesome characters, requires no knowledge of cricket, but cricketers will clearly love it too, and has an lovely little ending that ties everything together beautifully. Sincerely one of the best books i've ever read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 June 2013
This novel, subsequently reprinted under the more appropriate title, "The Legend of Pradeep Mathew" is about an old sports writer, Wijedasa Gamini Karunasena (or "Wije" as his friends call him) and his search for a forgotten Sri Lankan cricket hero, Pradeep Sivanathan Mathew. The "Chinaman" is the description of a cricket bowling manoeuvre) When Wije was diagnosed with liver failure and given a poor diagnosis he decided to make a documentary film about Pradeep Mathew. Throughout the book, Wije would lament his giving up alcohol on account of his health ("After fifty years of distinguished liver abuse, I, W.G. Karunasena , gave up booze."). He continues to sing praises of drink and drinking - "Has alcohol brought misery to humanity or kept it at bay?"

The story is replete with cricket players, cricket matches, and cricket terminology but far from being intimidating to a non-cricket player, the author unfolds them all with clarity and panache. "The Duckworth-Lewis method of resolving rain-affected games has divided the cricketing fraternity into those who do not understand it and those who pretend they do." No wonder the philosopher C E M Joad described cricket as a game for two (batsman and bowler) played by 22 players.

Some of the jokes might not be original but they fit perfectly into the story in Karunatilaka's hands: "It begins with the alcohol counselor two days after I am discharged. Before we go, Sheila [Wije's wife] gives me an article from "The Lanka Woman" on "How to overcome a Drinking Problem". `I didn't know that Lankan women had drinking problems,' I snort. `They do. They're called husbands.' Unlike me Sheila doesn't laugh at her own jokes."

Karunatilaka inclines us to respect unsung heroes in sport, and sympathise with unfulfilled writers who pickle their livers with alcohol. He exposes the hypocrisy of the aristocratic class and shows us that the world is just like a zoo, where "the animals are as shabby as the people looking at them." The author is a spinner of a great tale in which he alludes to Sri Lanka's troubled history and the war with the Tamil Tigers, but his accounts of fights between cricketers are hilarious. The story begins with Wije's quixotic search for Pradeep Mathew, and if not for the snippets of information concerning his past, one might suspect that that man does not exist. By the end of the book, one might even wonder whether this was a story about Wije's documentary on Pradeep Mathew - or Pradeep Mathew's biography of Wijedasa the sports writer.
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on 10 January 2015
This is a great book, both in terms of stature and enjoyment. I cannot remember having read anything like it and I loved the way it ended. But it will only get 4 stars because the mixture of fact and fiction will not be to everyone’s taste. To start with, I wanted to know which of the copious cricket “facts” were true but I soon had to give up and go with the flow. It’s not so much a question of suspending disbelief as I believed in all the main protagonists; it is more a case of letting go of any attempt to link the story to reality, and instead enjoying it for its own sake. The same was true for the many Sri Lankan words used. Sometimes crucial ones were explained in due course but again I learned to accept others as adding to the texture of the book.

So, try reading with an open mind and you could be in for a real treat.
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on 2 July 2012
I must agree with other reviewers. This is a wonderful book that I was unaware of until somone put me wise.

It helps if you like cricket but not essential.

It is funny, suspenseful (will he write the book and/or meet Mathew). The ending is surprising and rather moving.

And on the serious side we learn a lot about the ethnic conflicts and political and social scene in Sri Lanka.

Oddly I am still not sure if Mathew actually existed.

Coincidentally I e-mailed a friend to recommend Chinaman and she was just about to recommend it to me.

Top marks, highly recommended.
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on 4 March 2012
I really enjoyed this book. Having an interest in cricket and in Sri Lanka is helpful but not essential if you want to enjoy this quirky and sometimes moving tale, recounted by an old man reflecting on his life and the diverse characters in it. As other reviewers have said, there is lots of warmth and humour in this book as well as a neat conclusion. I hope there is more to come from Shehan Karunatilika.
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on 26 February 2013
A highlight among modern novels, this book is manages to be incredibly funny, moving and incisive while painting an acccurate picture of Sri Lankan culture and society. One of the best books I have read in recent years, this is a must for anyone interested in cricket, Sri Lanka or just wanting to read a really outstanding novel.
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on 14 January 2014
A brilliant read, full of unexpected twists. Set in Sri Lanka it tells the story of a near mythical cricketing exploit. If this is a game you love, then this book is for you. If you are holidaying in SL then this is the book to take. Enjoy!
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