Author: Ashok Ferrey
Publisher: Random House India
Ashok Ferrey has a fascination with weird characters. The Sri Lankan writer uses them liberally in his stories where they make brief but memorable appearances.
In Serendipity, the protagonist Piyumi is headstrong, selfish and promiscuous. Her love interest, Marek, teaches at an International School in Sri Lanka and is completely besotted by her. Both of them are pawns in the hands of an underground political movement. Viraj, a tuk-tuk driver with a penchant for bodybuilding, suffers from unrequited love for the burly foreigner, Debs. Debs lives a life that stays true to the name of her NGO, Women in Want. This melée is completed by the loud-mouthed servant Suranganee, the undisputed in-command at Piyumi’s house, Serendipity, and the effeminate school teacher, Percy ffinch-Percy.
Piyumi is a young, half Tamil, half Sinhalese, London-based barrister who returns to Sri Lanka to take charge of her inheritance — the servants’ quarters at Serendipity. But Serendipity is not just Piyumi’s story. Once in Sri Lanka, her life becomes intertwined with a motley group of characters, each of whom is drawn into the unfolding of the civil war.
The events in the book borrow from its title and possess a randomness that can be confusing. The story skips between the sale of Serendipity to numerous buyers interested in promoting “excloosiv” building concepts, the romantic lives of the characters and Sri Lanka’s national election preparations.
There are vivid descriptions of the election scene: sarong-wearing politicians who chose not to wear trousers because the latter sends out the message of being too rich; the practice of buying crowds at rallies with free lunch packets, and putting up posters of politicians with salmon pink skin because people believe that thin, dark leaders cannot command respect.
Ferrey’s talent lies in his use of satire, which ridicules the political structure and makes up for the vague descriptions of Sri Lankan society. The story meanders through the lives of the upper middle classes, best exemplified by Mrs Rodrigo, the wife of the minister of interior affairs. Mrs Rodrigo confuses the refurbishing of her house with performance art, using everything from Venetian windows from Venice to obelisks from Egypt.
Serendipity’s characters lack detailing but they hold attention with their quirkiness and ability to make the reader laugh despite the serious conditions. Viewed as absurdist fiction, Serendipity makes for a compelling read.