Lanka Help Magazine introduces this “Cricket Novel” by Shehan Karunathilaka to our readers today. “Chinaman” is the story of the little-known Sri Lankan test-cricket bowler, Pradeep S. Mathew, as researched and narrated by a washed-up sports journalist named W.G. Karunasena. His obsession to uncover who Mathew was and what became of him, unveils an unrecognized talent that wasn’t simply Sri Lanka’s most underrated spin bowler. but perhaps the greatest cricketer who ever lived!
“When author Shehan Karunatilaka was asked if Pradeep Mathew was inspired by any particular cricketer, he replied, “Everything about Mathew is true, apart from his name. That’s my story and I intend to stick to it.” “Was he being deliberately arch with the interviewer? Or could it be that there was, indeed, a model for the Pradeep Mathew story… and, if so, who was it?”
Shehan Karunatilaka has written advertisements, rock songs, travel stories and baselines. Chinaman is his first novel and Shehan won the 2008 Gratiaen Price for his very first Novel. Shehan currently living in New Zealand is working on his second novel now.
Here is one of the review from a reader :
This novel, subsequently reprinted under the more appropriate title, “The Legend of Pradeep Mathew” is about an old sports writer, Wijedasa Gamini Karunasena (or “Wije” as his friends call him) and his search for a forgotten Sri Lankan cricket hero, Pradeep Sivanathan Mathew. The “Chinaman” is the description of a cricket bowling manoeuvre) When Wije was diagnosed with liver failure and given a poor diagnosis he decided to make a documentary film about Pradeep Mathew. Throughout the book, Wije would lament his giving up alcohol on account of his health (“After fifty years of distinguished liver abuse, I, W.G. Karunasena , gave up booze.”). He continues to sing praises of drink and drinking – “Has alcohol brought misery to humanity or kept it at bay?”
The story is replete with cricket players, cricket matches, and cricket terminology but far from being intimidating to a non-cricket player, the author unfolds them all with clarity and panache. “The Duckworth-Lewis method of resolving rain-affected games has divided the cricketing fraternity into those who do not understand it and those who pretend they do.” No wonder the philosopher C E M Joad described cricket as a game for two (batsman and bowler) played by 22 players.
Some of the jokes might not be original but they fit perfectly into the story in Karunatilaka’s hands: “It begins with the alcohol counselor two days after I am discharged. Before we go, Sheila [Wije’s wife] gives me an article from “The Lanka Woman” on “How to overcome a Drinking Problem”. `I didn’t know that Lankan women had drinking problems,’ I snort. `They do. They’re called husbands.’ Unlike me Sheila doesn’t laugh at her own jokes.”
Karunatilaka inclines us to respect unsung heroes in sport, and sympathise with unfulfilled writers who pickle their livers with alcohol. He exposes the hypocrisy of the aristocratic class and shows us that the world is just like a zoo, where “the animals are as shabby as the people looking at them.” The author is a spinner of a great tale in which he alludes to Sri Lanka’s troubled history and the war with the Tamil Tigers, but his accounts of fights between cricketers are hilarious. The story begins with Wije’s quixotic search for Pradeep Mathew, and if not for the snippets of information concerning his past, one might suspect that that man does not exist. By the end of the book, one might even wonder whether this was a story about Wije’s documentary on Pradeep Mathew – or Pradeep Mathew’s biography of Wijedasa the sports writer.