Synopses & Reviews
In this stunningly assured debut work of fiction, Roshi Fernando weaves together the lives of an extended Sri Lankan family.
At Victor and Nandini’s home in southeast London, the New Year’s Eve celebration is under way. Everyone is gathered around—clinking glasses of arrack and whisky, eating freshly fried poppadoms, listening to baila music—waiting to ring in 1983. Upstairs, The Godfather is playing on repeat for a bedroom filled with teenagers drunk on pilfered wine. And in the middle of it all is sixteen-year-old Preethi, tipsy on youth and friendship and covert cigarettes, desperate to belong.
But what does that mean, to belong? As Preethi moves through her life—befriending the local outcast, revealing her brother’s deepest secret, struggling with her own unhappiness and through a souring marriage—this desire for acceptance remains the one constant, both for her and for everyone she knows. Homesick moves back and forth in time, between London and Sri Lanka, circling the people in Preethi’s world: her brother Rohan; her friends Nil, Clare, Deirdre, and Lolly; her aunty Gertie; and terrible cousin Kumar. Together, they are bound by this shared need to fit in somewhere, this rootless desire for a place to call home.
Gorgeously drawn, told with wit and pathos, this poignant narrative blends love with loss, politics with pop culture, tradition with youthful rebellion. Homesick is rich with insight and a kaleidoscopic view of contemporary immigrant life that introduces us to the work of Roshi Fernando, a remarkable new talent.
A stunning work of fiction about contemporary immigrant life from a dazzling new writer.
It's New Year's Eve 1982. At Victor and Nandini's home, family and friends gather to celebrate. Whiskey and arrack have been poured, poppadoms are freshly fried, and baila music is on the stereo. In the middle of it all is sixteen-year old Preethi, tipsy on youth, friendship, and pilfered wine, desperate to belong. Moving back and forth in time, between London and Sri Lanka, and circling the people in Preethi’s world, Homesick is a poignant narrative that blends love with loss, politics with pop culture, and tradition with rebellion.
About the Author
Roshi Fernando grew up in southeast London and received her Ph.D. in creative writing from Swansea University. She was a finalist for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award in 2011. She lives in the Cotswolds with her family.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Homesick, the award-winning, debut work of fiction by Roshi Fernando.
1. What does the title mean? Who is homesick? Who isn’t
2. Would you call this a novel or a collection of connected stories? Why?
3. Throughout the book, Fernando moves forward and backward in time, with characters coming to the forefront and receding. What was Fernando’s intent? What effect does this have on you, the reader?
4. Who is the main character in the book? Who did you feel most connected to?
5. In the title story, the younger generation watches The Godfather over and over on video. What connections can you draw between that film and Homesick?
6. Racism and anti-immigrant sentiments are laced throughout the book. Which characters seem best equipped to deal with the world in which they live? Who seemed most adversely affected by the treatment they receive?
7. On page 19, Victor says, “We belong nowhere. But if we belong anywhere, it is here. . . . And that is it.” What does he mean by that? Do the others agree with him?
8. When Kumar is released from prison, he keeps nothing but the fluorescent jacket, “for that, he thinks, truly belongs to him.” (page 53) Why does he choose this one item? Why does it belong to him?
9. The theme of freedom runs throughout the book. How do the characters’ definitions of the term differ? Why does one feel free, while another feels bound?
10. At the end of “The Turtle,” Fernando writes, “And later, months and years later, when Lucas and her daughters are willowy and stand tall next to her, she thinks of this moment, on this beach, as the moment of knowledge. The moment she covered what was exposed. The moment she opened what was shut away.” (page 90) What moment is this? Why is it so significant?
11. Why is the story about Preethi’s adolescent heartbreak called “Sophocles’s Chorus”?
12. Several characters in the book are homosexual or experimenting. How is their behavior shaped by the community?
13. What does Mumtaz’s broken English tell us about him? Why does he relate to Charlie Chaplin? Were you surprised by the circumstances of Mumtaz’s reappearance later in the book?
In “At the Barn Dance,” Fernando includes the following lyrics, from a song called “Rolling Home” (page 174):
Round goes the wheel of fortune,
Don’t be afraid to ride,
There’s a land of milk and honey,
Waits on the other side.
There’ll be peace and there'll be plenty,
You’ll never need to roam.
When we go rolling home, when we go rolling, home. . . .
What do these lyrics signify, for Preethi and in the book as a whole?
15. “The Terrorist’s Foster Grandmother” pivots on a substantial coincidence. How might things have played out differently if Gertie and Mumtaz hadn’t been seatmates?
16. In Sri Lanka, Preethi thinks, “Here she realizes one day, reduced to nothing, she has achieved a purity of happiness. And she is ashamed, because all around her is death.” (page 258) How can Preethi be happy here? Why is she?
17. Toward the very end of the book, Nil scolds Preethi: “Either you struggle and survive or you go under. And we’re not going to let you go under.” (page 275) What other characters would have benefited from this advice? Do you think it will help Preethi?