romesh dissanayake

When I open the shop

210mm x 138mm
Publication date:
14 March 2024

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In his small noodle shop in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, a young chef obsessively juliennes carrots. Nothing is going according to plan: the bills are piling up, his mother is dead, and there are strangers in his kitchen. The ancestors are watching closely.

Told through a series of brilliant interludes and jump cuts, When I open the shop is sometimes blackly funny, sometimes angry and sometimes lyrical, and sometimes – as a car soars off the road on a horror road trip to the Wairarapa – it takes flight into surrealism. A glimpse into immigrant life in Aotearoa, this is a highly entertaining, surprising and poignant debut novel about grief, struggle and community.

'Now, look, I loved this book. It looks at race and the immigrant experience in a really nuanced, smart way. It's touching, insightful, kind of melancholy and funny.' —Kiran Dass, RNZ

'On every level – character, form, language – dissanayake manages to offer something both innovative and complex in when I open the shop. I loved this bold and beautiful book.' —Madeleine Ballard, The Spinoff

'It’s an exhilarating read, the general vibe of the novel akin to chancing on a frozen lake and deciding then and there to get your skates on. But there’s unpredictability in the firmness of the ice and fascinating things lurk underneath; those figure-eight loops demand rigorous attention to craft.' —Angelique Kasmara, Aotearoa New Zealand Review of Books

When I open the shop is a novel about loss, exile and dislocation, in which time, space, and memory become a beautiful, fluid thing. It is very funny, angry and constantly pleasurable and moving in the way it depicts people opening space for themselves, and finding comfort, in spite of everything.’ —Brannavan Gnanalingam, author of Sprigs and Slow Down, You’re Here

‘This is a beautiful and compelling work. The language is magnificent on a sentence-by-sentence level, but I think that the structure is an incredibly adept act of decolonisation.’ —Pip Adam, author of Audition and Nothing to See

'Much of When I open the shop is a gift. It has the feeling of embodiment to it—not the general embodiment of life, but the specific embodiment of this person, this narrator, who moves through the world in their particular way, with their particular history—which we are delivered glimpses of throughout the book. The story is most of the time, highly uninterested in ‘explaining’ itself.' —Hannah Patterson, bad apple

'What makes dissanayake, and his debut, special is how he finds the music in naturalism, and the symphony in routine. . . . Fittingly, for a book about a man who opens his own space to put down his stake in the world, dissanayake has done exactly the same.' —Sam Brooks, Dramatic Pause

'While the narrative drives us forward, dissanayake’s poetic sensibilities allow for a closer view, zooming in to focus on a small moment or musing, then zooming back out again for the narrative push to take over.' —Louise Wallace, NZ Poetry Shelf

romesh dissanayake (Sri Lankan, Koryo Saram) is a writer from Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. His work has appeared in The SpinoffNewsroomPantograph Punch Enjoy Contemporary Art Space and A Clear Dawn: An Anthology of Emerging Asian New Zealand Writers. His first novel, When I open the shop, was the winner of the 2022 Modern Letters Fiction Prize from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

over illustration: H Y Chai

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