I suppose this is a sort of coming-of-age story, set in Sri Lanka roughly between 1962 and 1971 and later. The 1st person protagonist is a Sri Lankan teenager named Triton (the Greek messenger of the sea) – who is hired as a house-boy in the home of one Mr. Salgado, an ocean researcher. When the main man servant is fired with cause, Triton gets his job. Triton is an excellent cook, highly praised, perhaps he should have gone to cooking school but he practices his talent and devours the books he finds and receives. Cooking is Triton’s life but he is basically educating himself by watching his master, Mr. Salgado.
The poetic narrative just moves the reader along in a wonderfully easy, kind of luxurious way. There’s a romance going on underneath – Mr. Salgado acquires a girlfriend. And Sri Lankan politics are always kind of swirling distinctly underneath
everything – while the detritus of colonialism and capitalism float on top – like the ocean – which is being contaminated and over-harvested. Triton informs us that all of this happened many years prior to his telling us.
I suppose fate and politics and economic imperialism or colonialism (or simple internationalization) are the main themes – perhaps water which connects us all, and love – perhaps envy? As the book goes along, more and more non-Sri Lankan things and ideas are introduced into the lives of these people, poker, horse racing, the sauna, turkey dinner, etc. But where cooking gives Triton his identity, Nili, Mr. Salgado’s girlfriend, gives him desire.
And at some point you realize that Salgado’s poker club is living the life the rebels and purists disdain – and there are rebels and purists among this crowd. And that the revolution is right ahead.
Also set in Sri Lanka although a bit later is Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje.
I will also say this – it’s really so good I didn’t want it to end.