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Shyam Selvadurai

Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Shyam Selvadurai moved to Toronto, Canada with his mixed Tamil/Sinhalese family following the race riots of 1983. He has a B.F.A. in theatre directing and playwriting from York University, and an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. Selvadurai worked as a scriptwriter for television before focusing on writing short stories, novels, and essays. Funny Boy was a best seller in Canada. His second novel Cinnamon Gardens is set in colonial Ceylon in the 1920s. He resides in Toronto and Sri Lanka and remains active in the pursuit of social justice. Selvadurai’s short story “The Demoness Kali” that was first published in the August 2006 issue of Toronto Life won the Gold Prize in the Fiction Category of the 30th National Magazine Awards.

Selvadurai wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Funny Boy along with Deepa Mehta who also directed the film. His new novel Mansion of the Moon, a historical novel about the Buddha’s wife, will be released by Knopf in 2022.

Photograph by Kevin Kelly



Cinnamon Gardens

Toronto: M&S, 1998.
PS8587 .E58 C56 1998

Publisher’s Synopsis (Toronto, M&S, 1998)

Lush and beautiful, this story of intertwined lives vividly evokes the gracious world of 1920’s Ceylon (Sri Lanka) among the upper classes of Colombo’s wealthy suburb, Cinnamon Gardens, during a period when the power of colonial rule is shifting. … Selvadurai’s sensual descriptions and keen insights into the workings of the heart take us behind the fragrant gardens and polished surfaces of the elite to reveal a world of splintered families, conflicted passions, and lives destroyed by class hatred.

Awards and Honours

1998 Trillium Book Award–English. (Nominated)
Aloa Literary Award–Denmark (Nominated)
Premio Internazionale Riccardo Bacchelli–Italy (Nominated)



Funny Boy

Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.
PS8587 .E58 F8 1994

Publisher’s Synopsis (McClelland and Stewart, 1994)

Funny Boy is the remarkable literary debut of Shyam Selvadurai. Set in Sri Lanka, it is a haunting novel, told in six beautifully rendered stories, about a boy growing up within an extended upper-middle-class Tamil family in Colombo, during the seven years leading up to the 1983 riots. Selvadurai subtly juxtaposes a boy’s passage to adolescence and maturity with the upheavals of growing political unrest. The result is a novel about discovery and leavetaking, while time and time again the true longings of the human heart come up against the way things are.

Awards and Honours

1994 Giller Prize (Nominated)
1995 in Canada First Novel Award (formerly Smith Books/Books in Canada First Novel Award) (Winner)
1996 Lambda Literary Award — Gay Men’s Fiction (Winner)
1997 Stonewall Book Award–Literature (American Library Association (Finalist)
1997 RUSA Notable Book (American Library Association)


The Hungry Ghosts

Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2013.
PS8587 .E58 H85 2013

Publisher’s Synopsis (From its website)

In Buddhist myth, the dead may be reborn as “hungry ghosts”—spirits with stomach so large they can never be full—if they have desired too much during their lives. It is the duty of the living relatives to free those doomed to this fate by doing kind deeds and creating good karma. In Shyam Selvadurai’s sweeping new novel, his first in more than a decade, he creates an unforgettable ghost, a powerful Sri Lankan matriarch whose wily ways, insatiable longing for land, houses, money and control, and tragic blindness to the human needs of those around her parallels the volatile political situation of her war-torn country.

The novel centres around Shivan Rassiah, the beloved grandson, who is of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese lineage, and who also—to his grandmother’s dismay—grows from beautiful boy to striking gay man. As the novel opens in the present day, Shivan, now living in Canada, is preparing to travel back to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to rescue his elderly and ailing grandmother, to remove her from the home—now fallen into disrepair—that is her pride, and bring her to Toronto to live our her final days. But throughout the night and into the early morning hours of his departure, Shivan grapples with his own insatiable hunger and is haunted by unrelenting ghosts of his own creation.

Awards and Honours

2013 Governor-General’s Literary Award — Fiction, English language (Finalist)
2014 Toronto Book Awards (Finalist)


Mansions of the Moon

Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2022.
PS8587.E445 M36 2022

Publisher’s Synopsis (From its website)

In this sweeping story, at once epic and startlingly intimate, Shyam Selvadurai introduces us to Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha, a promising and politically astute young man settling into his life as a newlywed to Yasodhara, a young woman of great intelligence and spirit. The novel traces their early life together, and then the unthinkable turmoil as Siddhartha’s spiritual calling takes over and their partnership slowly, inexorably crumbles. How does a woman live in ancient India if her husband abandons her? Even a well-born woman with a revered husband? And what path might she towards enlightenment herself? Selvadurai examines these questions with empathy and insight, creating a rich portrait of a singular marriage, and of the woman who until now has been a shadow in the historical record. Mansions of the Moon is a literary event, and a remarkable moment in an esteemed author’s extraordinary career.

Awards and Honours

2022 The Globe 100 (Globe and Mail, 2 Dec. 2022)


Fiction (Juvenile)

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea

Toronto: Tundra Books, 2005.
PS8587 .E58 S95 2005

Publisher’s Synopsis

It is 1980 and the season of the monsoons in Sri Lanka. Fourteen-year-old Amrith faces an uneventful summer in the cheerful, well-to-do household in which he is being raised by his vibrant Aunty Bundle an kindly Uncle Lucky. He tries not to think of his life “before,” when his loving mother was still alive. Amrith’s holiday plans seem unpromising until, like an unexpected monsoon, his cousin arrives from Canada. Amrith’s ordered life becomes storm-tossed as he falls in love with the boy.

Awards and Honours

2005 Governor General’s Literary Award–Children’s Literature, Text–English (Nominated)
2005 ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award–Young Adult Category (Silver winner)
2005 Lambda Literary Award — Children’s/Young Adult Category (Winner)
2006 Young Adult Canadian Book Award (Canadian Library Association) (Winner)


Many Roads Through Paradise: An Anthology of Sri Lankan Literature

Selvadurai, Shyam, ed.
New Delhi?: Penguin India, 2015.



Passages: Welcome Home to Canada

PS8081 .P39 2002

Selvadurai, Shyam. “Conversations With My Mother.” In Passages: Welcome Home to Canada. Initiated by Westwood Creative Artists and the Dominion Institute. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2002.

Contributors: Michelle Berry • Ying Chen • Brian D. Johnson • Dany Laferriere • Alberto Manguel • Anna Porter • Nino Ricci • Shyam Selvadurai • M. G. Vassanji • Ken Wiwa • Moses Znaimer

This book grew out of the Dominion Institute’s Memory Project.



The Monkey King and Other Stories

PS8329 .M65 1995

Selvadurai, Shyam. “The Monkey King.” In The Monkey King and Other Stories, edited by Griffin Ondaatje. Toronto: HarperCollins, 1995, 7-16.


Reading Writers Reading: Canadian Authors’ Reflections

Z1039 .A87 R43 2006

Selvadurai, Shyam. “The Best School of All.” In Reading Writers Reading: Canadian Authors’ Reflections. Danielle Schaub, photographer and ed. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2006, 280-281.



Story Wallah!: A Celebration of South Asian Fiction

Selvadurai, Shyam, ed.
Toronto: Thomas Allen, 2004.
PR9415 .S76 2004

Publisher’s Synopsis

A “wallah” is a merchant or hawker. In Story-Wallah! some of the world’s best fiction writers, including Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Anita Desai, Rohinton Mistry, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Monica Ali — hawk their wares. There is an eclectic quality to the way the stories jostle against each other — life on a sugar plantation in Trinidad next to a story set in bustling Bombay, a honeymoon in the hills of Sri Lanka, and a childhood in rural Australia. Selvadurai’s arrangement creates a marvelous cacophony like early morning at a South Asian bazaar. Story-Wallah! is essential reading for anyone with an interest in South Asian writers and the dynamic, important tales they have to tell.


Tok. Book 1

PS8237 .T6 T54 2006

Selvadurai, Shyam. “Mister Canada.” In Tok. Book 1, edited by Helen Walsh. Toronto: Zephyr Press, 2006, 177-190.



Tok. Book 5

PS8237 .T6 T54 2010

Selvadurai, Shyam. “An excerpt from a novella titled Gaugin’s Chair.” In Tok. Book 5, edited by Helen Walsh. Toronto: Zephyr Press, 2010, 171-202.



Writing Life

PS8367 .A8 W75 2006

Selvadurai, Shyam. “Opening for Mr. Davies.” In Writing Life: Celebrated Canadian and International Authors on Writing and Life, edited by Constance Rooke. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2006, 355-363.

Selected Criticism and Interpretation

Ariyam, Derick Kirishan. “Imagining Sri Lanka: Expatriated “Revisions” of the Nation.” Masters Thesis, Rhode Island College, 2010. Accessed August 29, 2013.

Chu, Patricia P. “‘A Flame Against a Sleeping Lake of Petrol’: Form and the Sympathetic Witness in Selvadurai’s Funny Boy and Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost.” In Literary Gestures: The Aesthetic in Asian American Writing, edited by Rocio G. Davis and Sue-Im Lee. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005, 86-103.
PS153 .A84 L58 2005

Christensen, Peter G. “Shyam Selvadurai.” In Asian American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson, [332]-338. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.
PS153 .A84 A825 2000

Collin, Sarah Christine. “Matters of Multiculturalism: Approaching a Canadian Politics of Belonging.” M.A. thesis., University of Guelph, 1996.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses

Corr, John. “Diasporic Sexualities in Contemporary Canadian Fiction.” Ph.D. diss., McMaster University, 2007.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses

Corr, John. “Subversive Sexualities in the Fiction of Shyam Selvadurai.” M.A. thesis., McMaster University, 2002.
E-version available from Digital Commons@McMaster

Goldie, Terry. “The Funniness of the Funny Boy.” In his Pink Snow: Homotextual Possibilities in Canadian Fiction. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2003.

Gopinath, Gayatri. “Queer Diasporas: Gender, Sexuality and Migration in Contemporary South Asian Literature and Cultural Production.” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1998.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses
Also HQ76.25 .G67 2005  “Nostalgia, Desire, Diaspora: Funny Boy and Cereus Blooms at Night,” chap. in Gayatri Gopinath, Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 161-186.

Ismail, Qadri Mohammed.  “Constituting Nation, Contesting Nationalism: Gender, Subalternity and Community in South Asia.”  Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1998.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses

Jayasuriya, Maryse Dilanee.  “Wielding the “Kadusa”: The Politics of Sri Lankan Writing in English at a Time of Ethnic Conflict.”  Ph.D. diss., Purdue University, 2006.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses

Kandiuk, Mary. “Shyam Selvadurai.” In Caribbean and South Asian Writers in Canada: A Bibliography of Their Works and of English-language Criticism. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2007, 196-200.
PS8089.5 .C37 K36 2007

Kumarage, Erangee Kaushalya.  “Re-membering the Nation: The Body as a Site of Contest in Fiction and Film on Post-independence Sri Lankan Political Conflicts.”  Ph.D. diss., Lehigh University, 2004.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses

Maureemootoo, Kama. “(Re)imagining the Past, (Re)mapping the Nation: Masculinity and the Nationalist Imaginary in the Indian Subcontinent.” M.A. thesis., Trent University, 2011.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses

Menike, Nimmi N. Writing Violence and Buddhism in Sri Lanka: Of Hungry Ghosts and Homecomings. London: Routledge, 2022.

Mitchell, Scott. “”The Sweet Touch”: Alienation and Physical Connection in the Works of Michael Ondaatje, Shyam Selvadurai, and Salman Rushdie.” Ph.D. diss., University of Missouri-Columbia, 2010.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses
Available as open access dissertation from

Murtuza, Miriam Rafia.  “”Play Up, Play Up, and Play the Game”: Public Schools and Imperialism in British and South Asian Diasporic Literature.”  Ph.D. diss., The University of Texas at Austin, 2010.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses

Nadler, Janna.  “Displaced and Minor Children in Selected Canadian Literature: An Analysis of Ethnic Minority Child Narratives as “Minor Literatures” in “Funny Boy”, “Lives of the Saints”, and “Obasan”.”  Ph.D. diss., McMaster University, 2005.
E-version available from Digital Commons@McMaster
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses

Pennell, Beverley and John Stephens. “Queering Heterotopic Spaces: Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy and Peter Wells’s Boy Overboard.” In Ways of Being Male: Representing Masculinities in Children’s Literature and Film, ed. John Stephens. New York: Routledge, 2002.
PN1009.5.M37 W39 2002

Salaye, Narvadha. “Marginalisation and the Construction of South-Asian Identity in Novels by Rohinton Mistry, Shyam Selvadurai and Moyez Vassanji.” M.A. thesis., Université de Sherbrooke, 2002.

Salgado, Minoli. “A Sivanandan and Shyam Selvadurai: Border Dialogues.” Chap. in her Writing Sri Lanka: Literature, Resistance & the Politics of Place. New York: Routledge, 2007.
Restricted access e-book collection

Svensson, Åsa. “”[T]he Free Play of Fantasy” The Interrelations between Ethnicity and Sexuality in Shyam Selvadurai´s Funny Boy.” Masters thesis, Växjö University, 2008. Accessed August 29, 2013.

Zackheos, Marilena. “The Ex-isle Reinvention: Postcolonial Trauma and Recovery in Contemporary Island Literature.”  Ph.D. diss., The George Washington University, 2011.
Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses
Available as an Open Access dissertation from


Shyam Selvadurai personal website

Shyam Selvadurai portrait  by Jock MacRae and biographical note from CLGA National Portrait Gallery

Publisher McClelland and Stewart

Publisher Random House of Canada (including Doubleday Canada)

Publisher Tundra Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada

Publisher Zephyr Press

Diaspora Dialogues Charitable Foundation

Readers’ Guide for Story Wallah

Shyam Selvadurai and Robert Hough in Canada Writes/The Next Chapter (CBC Radio) Literary Smackdown #7, “Write What You Know vs. Write What You Don’t Know.”

Shyam Selvadurai on The Hungry Ghosts, part of CBC Radio One’s The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers,  episode “Shyam Selvadurai, if you like David Sedaris…” first broadcast May 20, 2013

“Love in the Afternoon Panel” as six authors including Selvadurai grapple with romance and writing, episode of CBC Radio One’s Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel, first broadcast September 9, 2009.