This was an absolute joy to read. I cannot remember the last book I read where I wanted to share so many quotes from the book. I am a massive cricket fan and this is the ultimate cricket novel. I actually cannot think of any other cricket novels (there are plenty of great baseball ones). There was a fantastic scene in JASPER JONES with Jeffrey Lu which I loved and NETHERLAND by Joseph O’Neill which I think features cricket in New York post-9/11 but I haven’t read it. CHINAMAN, however, truly captures what the game of cricket means to those who love it like nothing else I’ve read before.
This is more than a book about cricket though. It is about Sri Lanka and its people, its history and the politics that have plagued the country and almost torn it apart. It is about fathers and sons, myths and legends and friends and family. It is immensely funny and fascinating and may possibly break your heart (it did mine). And you don’t even have to like cricket or understand the game to enjoy it. In fact I was recommended this book by a bookseller friend in Brooklyn who didn’t know much about the game before she read the book. The book is littered throughout with facts, figures and diagrams about the game and its rules which are amongst my favourite parts of the book.
The story is written by a Sri Lankan journalist who only has a few months to live. Before he dies he wants to write about the greatest cricketer he has ever seen: Pradeep Matthew. Shehan Karunatilaka brilliantly blurs the lines between fact and fiction weaving real and fictional people in and out the story including many famous cricketers and world events. We follow Sri Lanka’s trials and tribulations as both a cricketing nation and a nation itself. By the end of the story you’ll be almost convinced that you’ve been reading about a real cricketer who has mysteriously vanished and been erased from all record books.
This is easily going to make my Top 5 reads of the year and my copy is going to have a very special place on my bookcase for years to come.
Quotes from Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Matthew by Shehan Karunatilaka
“Things they don’t teach you at school. How to love. How to die. How to stage a dramatic comeback”
“The ball is made of leather with a hard seam running its circumference. The bat is made of willow. The sound of one hitting the other is music”
“Left-arm spinners cannot unclog your drains, teach your children or cure you of disease. But once in a while, the very best of them will bowl a ball that will bring an entire nation to its feet. And while there maybe no practical use in that, there is most certainly value.”
“The pitch serves as a scapegoat for many failures, though it is seldom referred to by those celebrating success.”
“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. Rumour has it that it involves calculus, astrology, quantum mechanics and the use of dice. Either way teams get screwed.”
“A captain will declare an innings closed if he believes his side has enough runs on the board, if he wants to give his bowlers more time to bowl out the opposition, or if a player he doesn’t like very much is about to break a record.”
“Maiden: An over in which no runs are scored. The phrase ‘bowling a maiden over’ remains one of cricket’s most overused and unfunniest puns.”
“Sledging refers to on-field verbal abuse, usually meted out by a fielding side to disturb a batsman’s concentration. It is called ‘gamesmanship’ in the same way rugby calls stomping on someone’s head ‘part of the sport’.”
“The ball has a shiny side and a rough side. One offers less air resistance and causes the ball to move in the air and off the ground. While it is legal to shine one side, it is illegal to disfigure the other.”