Top positive review
19 people found this helpful
To "those who keep the flame alive from night to night."
on 21 December 2002
Few readers will be able to resist the charm of Triton, who, eleven years old at the midpoint of the 20th century, becomes a member of Ranjan Salgado's Sri Lankan household as a houseboy. His life under the demanding and belligerent older servant Joseph is a challenge, and Gunesekera delightfully conveys Triton's point of view, skillfully revealing an 11-year-old's sensibilities and imagination as Triton envisions Joseph being brought low or stricken by disaster, while his own heroic acts save his master. As Triton gets older and acquires more and more responsibilities, Gunesekera reveals a character of unwavering conscientiousness whose personal devotion to Salgado and admiration for his intellectual accomplishments are absolute.
Reef is not just a story, however, as fascinating as that may be. It is a delicate allegory of the small changes which can bring cataclysmic results to a society, just as the coral reef which Ranjan Salgado studies is "very delicate. It has survived aeons, but even a small change in the immediate environment...could kill it." With the gap between the educated and the "underclass" in Sri Lanka very wide, and portentous changes occurring to the country politically, the reader is constantly reminded that, like the reef, "if the structure is destroyed...then the whole thing will go." As Salgado's love for Nili makes him more and more self-centered and less altruistic, and as political movements inspired by other countries become more aggressive, the "small changes in the immediate environment" begin for Triton.
In prose that shimmers with the light of the tropics and the scent of flowers, the reader is absorbed into the Sri Lankan jungle and sea, watching as the outside world propels along the small changes which may devour everything--the jungle, the sea, and the cultural fabric of which they have all been part for eons. As as one reads this remarkable novel, one joins with Triton and Salgado in yearning for peace, the "twilight when the forces of darkness and the forces of light are evenly matched and in balance [and] there is nothing to fear. No demons, no troubles, no carrion. An elephant swaying to a music of its own." Mary Whipple