Playful and sardonic aren’t words that you’d use to describe depictions of the bloody ethnic unrest that has characterized Sri Lanka in recent times. Yet, that’s the overarching mood of this slim novel by Shobasakthi, a former LTTE child soldier and currently a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee in France.
The structure itself is unusually inventive. Gorilla starts out with a long petition written by one Anthony Thasan seeking asylum in France, detailing the travails he’s undergone as one suspected of having terrorist links and throwing himself at the mercy of the French authorities. Then follows a long middle section dealing with the exploits of the young Rocky Raj: his fractious relationship with his father, the thuggish Gorilla, and his induction into “the Movement” as a child soldier. (The chilling footnotes here describing the deaths of the characters we encounter are an ingenious device.) Finally, there’s a concluding first-person section told by a Tamil refugee in France which re-introduces us to Anthony’s life. Clearing up confusion over the identities of the characters in the novel, this section, ending in an act of shocking violence, asks disturbing questions about whether one is capable of entirely shedding one’s past. All of which is thrown into sharp relief when you realise that Sobasakthi’s real name is, in fact, Anthony Jesuthasan.
Originally written in Tamil and felicitously translated by Anushiya Sivanarayanan (who also provides an informative, context-setting introduction), Gorilla has an impact greater than the sum of its parts and is far removed from the genteel alienation of a Romesh Gunasekhara or Shyam Selvadurai. How much of it is made-up, and how much real-life is for the author to know; all one can do is to call it mock fictional – with equal stress on both of those words.