Homesick by Roshi Fernando comes very, very close to being the novel her publisher (Random House) claims right on the cover that it is but alas… a novel it is not. However it isn’t quite the dreaded interconnected short stories either. It is more a series of life studies and it is wonderful. How is that possible when it isn’t successful as a novel or a short story collection?
In Homesick, Preethi is a part of the large, extended Sri Lankan family living in London. Her journey from child to adult is the underpinning for Homesick. Each chapter is devoted to a family member or members. Sometimes Preethi figures directly into the story of this relative sometimes not. As the title indicates these loosely written studies all draw on the immigrant experience.
The details of both the physical and emotional lives of her characters that Fernando packs into Homesick are impressive and intriguing. There is a vivid emotional range explored in Homesick that resonated for me. These lives that are not yet at home in London and no longer at home in Sri Lanka have compelling stories. Immigration is not a common occurrence in most of our lives but we’ve all been homesick. Fernando makes this experience as seen by families and individuals joyous, heartbreaking, sinister and always interesting and sympathetic.
The physical manifestations of the characters new and old lives are a fascination throughout the book. Locations, foods, products, clothing, games, slang, pop culture and traditions are all prominent hallmarks in Fernando’s tales. These elements all work together to create an inescapable flux in these lives.
So what goes on here? As I’ve said Homesick is wonderful but it is not successful as a novel or as a short story collection. Why? In both cases Homesick is too sketchy, unfinished, unpolished to work when judging it by either form. But…when you take it for what it is an examination of lives undergoing massive change told in a disjointed storytelling way it’s really quite marvelous.
I will absolutely read what Roshi Fernando writes next. My dissatisfaction with the form of Homesick was far outweighed by my enjoyment of her writing while reading it.
And yes. That is a beautiful cover.