Breakfast with Shyam Selvadurai’s Hungry Ghosts

In his latest novel, Shyam Selvadurai explores the experiences of a Tamil-Sinhalese man preparing to return from Canada to Sri Lanka, where he hopes to save his grandmother from her dilapidated, war-ravaged home. The book’s title, The Hungry Ghosts, refers to a Buddhist myth that those who are too hungry in life—hungry for money, power or possessions—are reborn as ghosts with stomachs too large to fill. And while Selvadurai’s protagonist lives in Toronto, the ghosts of his home country linger with him.

The Globe and Mail‘s recent review of the book said it tackled “a grand concept” with precision and depth:

Selvadurai’s work reminds me that the contemporary novel doesn’t necessarily have to resort to thrills or high jinks in order to find its usefulness. Here, it unforgettably explores the interplay between individual intention and the tragedy of a nation’s history.

And the Winnipeg Free Press likewise praised the novel as a beautifully told tale, not just of a life but a country:

Calling to mind the work of Indo-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri, Selvadurai does an excellent job contrasting Sri Lanka and Canada. On his native island, he sees “people at trestle tables with banana leaves piled with idli, rhosai, or string hoppers, onto which bare-chested little boys in soiled shorts dolloped soupy sambar out of metal buckets.” But “the Coca-Cola, the KFC, the billboards, the white shag carpet” greet him upon his family’s arrival in Canada.

Selvadurai will read from The Hungry Ghosts on April 14 as part of the Spur festival’s Well-Read Mornings series. You can join him at the Gardiner Café  at 11:30 a.m., eat breakfast and hear him discuss the book with Helen Walsh, Spur’s Festival Director.

For a taste of what’s on offer, see the video below of Selvadurai reading from his books Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens at the University of British Columbia, where he was the writer-in-residence last fall:


Spur is a national festival of politics, art and ideas and is a catalyst for change in Canada.

Through nationally relevant and locally nuanced discussions, presentations and performances, the festival seeks to spur its participants to action on issues affecting Canadians. Feisty, multi-partisan, forward-looking, and solution-driven, this national railway of ideas will provide Canada with vital new cultural infrastructure for the 21st century.

Founded in 2013, the festival has already grown from three to five Canadian cities, with plans for further expansion across the country. Produced by the Literary Review of Canada in partnership with Diaspora Dialogues, Spur prides itself on its community partnerships, cultural connections and a focus on accessibility and diversity.

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