"We are only what we remember, nothing more": History and healing in Romesh Gunesekera's Reef

J. Edward Mallot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Following the rise of memory studies, several scholars have investigated the terrain between (and dividing) memory and history. Romesh Gunesekera's Booker-shortlisted 1994 novel Reef presents a fictional meditation on this issue, heavily wrapped in metaphor. The work has been criticized for its narrative perspective: following the experiences of a young chef and his marine biologist employer, ultimately forced to leave an increasingly violent Sri Lanka. First-person protagonist Triton, eschewing extended discussion about this unfolding political crisis, focuses instead on lengthy descriptions of the food he prepares and the cycles of the nearby sea. But these seemingly "unnecessary" and even "exoticized" passages offer a complex metaphorical comparison between memory and history. Consistently, ocean waves reflect a relentless, terrifying progression of history, the current tide threatening to drown national plurality. Triton's flight to the kitchen counters the sea's "history" by considering cooking and consumption a project of alternative historiography and healing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-98
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Commonwealth Literature
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Food
  • History
  • Memory
  • Pierre Nora
  • Reef
  • Romesh Gunesekera

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of '"We are only what we remember, nothing more": History and healing in Romesh Gunesekera's Reef'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this