Chinaman-: The legend of Pradeep Mathew- Shehan Karunatilaka

Suppose there exists one of the greatest bowlers of all time, who has played just four or five matches. Mysteriously he disappears, when he is at the peak of his abilities.  Then an alcoholic journalist decides to tail him.  He has intentions to write a magnum opus about this mysterious apparition known as Pradeep Mathew. He begins to interview lots and lots of people, where unravels the sleazy world of backdoor shenanigans, sexual escapades and match fixing.

This is the basic stuff around which Shehan Karunatilaka’s ravishing novel revolves around. What actually happened to Pradeep Mathew? What made him to disappear like that? Enchanted by this legendary bowler’s hasty withdrawal, our journalist, affectionately known as Wije, finds so many truths, mostly rotten.

This novel could connect more with the readers from the Indian sub- continent, where cricketers often attain demi-god statuses.  There are glimpses about the not-so-polite worlds of match fixing, and dressing room fights.  In a country that was ravaged by a civil war during the times the story takes place, cricket was an elixir for most of the people, an easy escape route. They celebrated every win and the Lankan cricketers were elevated to the statuses of national heroes.

Wije, aided by his best friend, Ari, is in pursuit of this mysterious cricketer. They, on the way meets a beauty queen, a tiger warlord, a jealous cricket coach and some failed cricketers. Then there are tensions going on between the father wije, and son Garfield, who becomes a rebel.  He is interested in music and there are constant frictions throughout the novel between the father and the son. The question is whether Wije will be able to locate the reticent cricketer.

The writing is beautiful. Karunatilake has succeeded in creating an atmosphere of suspense. The language is simple too.  I’ve so far read another Srilankan  (Romesh Gunasekara) and this book can be described as a kaleidoscope opened to the shadowy interests of the Sri Lankan cricket.

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