Beach Boy

Ardashir Vakil, Author Scribner Book Company $22 (240p) ISBN 978-0-684-85299-7
Marrying a universal story (an adolescent boy's coming-of-age) with a specific locale (India in the 1970s), Indian writer Vakil has produced a charming and agreeable first novel distinguished by vivid detail, wry humor and charismatic characters. Like many young boys, Cyrus Readymoney has simple fascinations: movie stars and neighborhood girls. He spends most of his days angling for entry to the nearby cinema, where his observations of Hindi film make for some of the book's most lyrical passages (""Waiting for the film to begin, I understood the meaning of time passing, of time wasted, of being left behind by time""). When not at the movies, he explores sex, both through glimpses of adult women and through furtive forays with other children. An indifferent student, Cyrus seems to actually take pleasure in the beatings his misbehavior provokes from his school principal. His parents seem satisfied with guest appearances in his life, mainly to denigrate him on the tennis court (in his mother's case) or to make vague reassurances of their love (his father's contribution). The parents' troubled marriage provides constant background noise, but, distant as they are from Cyrus's everyday life, the parents' battles, though vicious, seem not to affect him. When they finally separate, he has no inkling of the dire events to follow. Meanwhile, Cyrus guides the reader through Bombay , which Vakil (a native of that city) renders in a lush sensual arrangement (""Mountains of puffed rice, yellow sev, purple onions, earthenware matkas full of spiced water""). In the end, Cyrus's passage from boyhood to a sobered adolescence comes through a wrenching loss, but a gentle lesson teaches him that he can survive life's cruel surprises. QPB alternate. (Aug.) FYI: Beach Boy was nominated for Britain's Whitbread Prize and won a Betty Trask Award.
Reviewed on: 08/03/1998
Release date: 08/01/1998
Hardcover - 224 pages - 978-0-14-026489-0
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