Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review: Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal

Blue Boy
Rakesh Satyal

Published by Kensington Books

Reviewed by Eric Karl Anderson

Cincinnati is an unlikely place to find a reincarnation of the blue god Krishna. Yet, here we meet an adolescent boy in the early 1990’s who paints his face using his mother’s make up and believes himself to be just that. This coming of age novel explores the life of Kiran, an American boy who hopes to dazzle his uncreative schoolmates, parents and teachers in his school talent show. He is keenly aware of how different he is from those around him, especially from the Indian peers he sees regularly at religious and social functions. However, his position as an outsider makes him a keen observer able to perceive the foibles and inner-workings of groups in a way that is in some ways advantageous to him. Attempts he makes to ingratiate himself fail. A chance he takes to befriend two girls at his school turns into a humiliating experience. Bonding over “boobies”, his burgeoning group friendship with his hunchback lunch companion and a tall boy quickly goes sour. His art teacher scorns his artistic talent and creativity. His attempt to tattle to family friends about an adolescent affair he witnesses goes horribly wrong. Even the librarians seem to scorn him when he huddles in the corner of the library doing research on the history of Hinduism. Other than his Jewish tutor who appreciates his abilities, Kiran’s closest companion turns out to be the doll he reveres and keeps hidden, Strawberry Shortcake. Kiran’s journey is both hilarious and heart-rending as it is filled with a keen sense of detail. His tale is indelibly his own.
Rakesh Satyal is a natural story-teller leading the reader on a sympathetic journey through the painful steps of adolescence and sexual discovery. Kiran perceives something essential about people through the rhythms of their speech and the theatricality of their actions: “To me, they are more than just girls. They are a manner of speaking, peppered with slang and cast in a joyous lilt.” The people he encounters are exotic and fascinating for the boy, but ultimately unknowable. Satyal brilliantly describes Kiran’s queer perspective of the world and the ways that this viewpoint causes the boy to feel both joyous and isolated: “Being gay is a self-contained, alternate world.” When Kiran notices his skin turning blue, he becomes convinced that the aspects of his personality which set him apart from everyone else must have been imparted upon him from a divine source. The great tragedy at the heart of the novel is that Kiran feels he must become the reincarnation of a deity to display his unique skills and assert the importance of his life. The truth is that Kiran is already a very talented, beautiful and important individual – he just doesn’t realize it yet living in a community that doesn’t appreciate his unique qualities. Importantly, he doesn’t allow himself to be silenced. His parents love him dearly and understand Kiran better than he thinks. Satyal skilfully reveals how Kiran’s mother is keenly aware of her son’s peculiarities. Though his parents try to mould him, Kiran stubbornly expresses himself and follows his own path. In this way, an uneasy acceptance of Kiran’s individuality is formed. Blue Boy is an entertaining, clever and important novel.

Eric Karl Anderson is author of the novel Enough and has published work in various publications such as The Ontario Review, Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, Blithe House Quarterly and the anthologies From Boys to Men and Between Men 2.



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