“It was 1962,” says Triton, “the year of the bungled coup.” Triton is 11, and the bungling occurred in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Gunesekera, born in Colombo, was never able to duplicate the dreamy economy of this first novel. Triton, houseboy to Mister Salgado, prods the lush scenery to life. Like his island, Triton enters a century he resists. The novel has primitive glare and adolescent energy. Triton marvels at Delgado, the would-be modern man: “Sir, I wanted to ask, how do you thread magnesium filaments and copper alloys and turn electric longings into attractive voltage without learning to read and write and tell the past from the present?” This is a pleasing and ominous enchantment, set in a time before the Tamil Tigers.