How have you all been? Its February 2017 guys! Where have the days gone eh? And I’m back with yet another listicle, this time with a special reason too. Today, the 4th of February is the day my country Sri Lanka formerly known as Ceylon, gained its independence from the British after centuries of colonialism back in the year 1948.
As the title clearly states, I decided to create a list of some of the best, spell binding and intriguing Lankan literature written in English. Of course there are so many more wonderful masterpieces in both Sinhala and Tamil (which are both official languages of the country) but translations of them are also widely available. I tried my best to chose from a wide range of genres including translations 🙂
Over the years I have grown some partiality towards Lankan literature and its amazing authors who never fail to enchant me with their tales. Perhaps the familiarity to the places and culture make the stories even more endearing.
I hope you guys can find at least one book to your suiting from the following. I’ll link in the reviews I’ve done for a few of em. All summaries were taken from Goodreads. Enjoy 🙂
1. Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
Island of a Thousand Mirrors follows the fate of two families, one Tamil, one Sinhala as they straddle opposite sides of the long and brutal Sri Lankan civil war. Narrated by the eldest daughter of each family, the story explores how each woman negotiates war, migration, love, exile, and belonging. At its root, it s a story of a fragmented nation struggling to find its way to a new beginning.
2. The Road From Elephant Pass by Nihal de Silva
The Road From Elephant Pass won the 2003 Gratiaen Prize for creative writing in English “for its moving story, for its constant feel of real life, for its consistency of narrative momentum, for its descriptive power, for its dramatic use of dialogue to define social context, capture character psychology, and trace the development of a relationship, for its convincing demonstration that resolution of conflict and reconciliation of differences are feasible through mutual experience and regard, and last though not least, for its eminently civilized handling of the last degree of intimacy between a man and a woman.”
3. All Is Burning by Jean Arasanayagam
This collection contains nineteen stories of rare power from the heart of war-ravaged Sri Lanka. In these stories Jean Arasanayagam brings us voices that are not normally heard: those of anonymous men and women searching for order and reason in the midst of a ruthless civil war: a young Sinhala man turns his back on an aimless upper-class existence and joins a group of Tamil refugees smuggling themselves into Germany; a woman goes out alone to a scene of carnage to try to find her daughter’s lover among the dead; a maid returns from the rich desert city of Doha to the green half-jungle of her village in northern Sri Lanka and rediscovers hapiness despite the uncertain future.
4. The Waiting Earth by Punyakante Wijenaike
This is a novel about the hardships of the villagers in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka. This also exposes about an improper love story of a schoolgirl and her teacher.
5. The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai
In Buddhist myth, the dead may be reborn as “hungry ghosts”—spirits with stomach so large they can never be full—if they have desired too much during their lives. It is the duty of the living relatives to free those doomed to this fate by doing kind deeds and creating good karma. In Shyam Selvadurai’s sweeping new novel, his first in more than a decade, he creates an unforgettable ghost, a powerful Sri Lankan matriarch whose wily ways, insatiable longing for land, houses, money and control, and tragic blindness to the human needs of those around her parallels the volatile political situation of her war-torn country.
The novel centres around Shivan Rassiah, the beloved grandson, who is of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese lineage, and who also—to his grandmother’s dismay—grows from beautiful boy to striking gay man. As the novel opens in the present day, Shivan, now living in Canada, is preparing to travel back to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to rescue his elderly and ailing grandmother, to remove her from the home—now fallen into disrepair—that is her pride, and bring her to Toronto to live our her final days. But throughout the night and into the early morning hours of his departure, Shivan grapples with his own insatiable hunger and is haunted by unrelenting ghosts of his own creation.
The Hungry Ghosts is a beautifully written, dazzling story of family, wealth and the long reach of the past. It shows how racial, political and sexual differences can tear apart both a country and the human heart—not just once, but many times, until the ghosts are fed and freed
6. Saree by Su Dharmapala
Nila wasn’t born beautiful and is destined to go through life unnoticed… until she becomes a saree maker. As she works, Nila weaves into the silk a pattern of love, hope and devotion, which will prove to be invaluable to more lives than her own.
From the lush beauty of Sri Lanka, ravaged by bloody civil war, to India and its eventual resting place in Australia, this is the story of a precious saree and the lives it changes forever. Nila must find peace, Mahinda yearns for his true calling, Pilar is haunted by a terrible choice, Sarojini doubts her ability to love, Madhav is a holy fraud and Marion’s understanding of the very meaning of love is challenged and transformed. Each teeters between joy and pain, and each is touched by the power and beauty of the saree.
A breathtaking story of beauty, oppression and freedom… and of an enduring love that can never be broken.
My review of it here 🙂
7. Madol Doova by Martin Wickramasinghe, Ashley Halpe (Translator)
Martin Wikramasinghe’s Madol Doova has been read, re-read and loved by generations of Sri Lankans in it’s original Sinhala as well as in other translations. During the half-century since it was published in 1947, over a million copies have been printed
My review here 🙂
8. The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Kretser
A flamboyant beauty who once partied with the Prince of Wales and who now, in her seventh decade, has “gone native” in a Ceylonese jungle. A proud, Oxford-educated lawyer who unwittingly seals his own professional fate when he dares to solve the sensational Hamilton murder case that has rocked the upper echelons of local society. A young woman who retreats from her family and the world after her infant brother is found suffocated in his crib. These are among the linked lives compellingly portrayed in a novel everywhere hailed for its dazzling grace and savage wit.
A spellbinding tale of family and duty, of legacy and identity, a novel that brilliantly probes the ultimate mystery of what makes us who we are
9. Love Marriage by V.V. Ganeshananthan
In this globe-scattered Sri Lankan family, we speak of only two kinds of marriage. The first is the Arranged Marriage. The second is the Love Marriage. In reality, there is a whole spectrum in between, but most of us spend years running away from the first toward the second. [p. 3]
The daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants who left their collapsing country and married in America, Yalini finds herself caught between the traditions of her ancestors and the lure of her own modern world. But when she is summoned to Toronto to help care for her dying uncle, Kumaran, a former member of the militant Tamil Tigers, Yalini is forced to see that violence is not a relic of the Sri Lankan past, but very much a part of her Western present.
While Kumaran’s loved ones gather around him to say goodbye, Yalini traces her family’s roots–and the conflicts facing them as ethnic Tamils–through a series of marriages. Now, as Kumaran’s death and his daughter’s politically motivated nuptials edge closer, Yalini must decide where she stands.
Lyrical and innovative, V. V. Ganeshananthan’s novel brilliantly unfolds how generations of struggle both form and fractures families.
10. The Sweet and Simple Kind by Yasmine Gooneratne
The Sweet and Simple Kind is an engrossing and dramatic family saga set against the backdrop of Ceylon’s turbulent evolution into Sri Lanka.
Resonant in its social insights and beautifully written, The Sweet and Simple Kind offers a richly imagined world of love, political chicanery and family turmoil in the newly independent Sri Lanka of the 1950s and 60s. As an intensely political family attempts to balance language with religion, and privilege with equity, two smart, westernised young women — cousins Tsunami and Latha — pursue their own personal freedoms. The Sweet and Simple Kind enchants us with its combination of authenticity, humour and passion.
11. Bone China by Roma Tearne
An epic novel of love, loss and a family uprooted, set in the contrasting landscapes of war-torn Sri Lanka and immigrant London. Grace de Silva, wife of the shiftless but charming Aloysius, has five children and a crumbling marriage. Her eldest son, Jacob, wants desperately to go to England. Thornton, the most beautiful of all the children and his mother’s favourite, dreams of becoming a poet. Alicia wants to be a concert pianist. Only Frieda has no ambition, other than to remain close to her family. But civil unrest is stirring in Sri Lanka and Christopher, the youngest and the rebel of the family, is soon caught up in the tragedy that follows. As the decade unfolds against a backdrop of increasing ethnic violence, Grace watches helplessly as the life she knows begins to crumble.
Slowly, this once happy family is torn apart as four of her children each make the decision to leave their home. In London, the de Silvas are all caught in a clash between East and West …
12. Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka
Some remember his impressive career stats … others recall his on-field arrogance. Some say he fixed matches . . . others say he was dropped for being Tamil! Who exactly was Pradeep Mathew? And what became of him?
WG Karunasena, a man who spent 64 years drinking arrack and watching cricket decides to find out …If you have never seen a cricket match; or if you have and it has made you snore …If you can’t understand why anyone would watch, let alone obsess over this dull game …… then this IS the book for you
13. Reef by Romesh Gunesekera
Reef is the elegant and moving story of Triton, a talented young chef so committed to pleasing his master’s palate that he is oblivious to the political unrest threatening his Sri Lankan paradise. It is a personal story that parallels the larger movement of a country from a hopeful, young democracy to troubled island society. It is also a mature, poetic novel which the British press has compared to the works of James Joyce, Graham Greene, V.S. Naipaul, and Anton Chekhov.
Reef explores the entwined lives of Mr. Salgado, an aristocratic marine biologist and student of sea movements and the disappearing reef, and his houseboy, Triton, who learns to polish silver until it shines like molten sun; to mix a love cake with ten eggs, creamed butter, and fresh cadju nuts; to marinade tiger prawns; and to steam parrot fish. Through these characters and the forty years of political disintegration their country endures, Gunesekera tells the tragic, sometimes comic, story of a lost paradise and a young man coming to terms with his destiny.
14. It’s not in the Stars by Rizvina Morseth de Alwis
When Sam and Pradeep hear of Minu’s death in a car crash, they struggle to understand the truth behind her death. But soon, they find themselves on a journey of their own, discovering the truth about themselves and their relationship.
Set against the backdrop of the civil conflict and political upheavals of the ’80s and ’90s in Sri Lanka, It’s not in the Stars… is about friendship, love and family ties. Minu finds herself caught between her family’s pressures to marry within her community and her desire to become independent and control her own destiny. Sam, who is more confident, feisty and unafraid to break the rules, comes into her own, but not before she experiences, love, heartache and betrayal. Pradeep, who struggles with a renewed consciousness of his identity as a Tamil is the glue that sticks them together, the thread that intertwines their lives inextricably.
What does destiny have in store for them? Can they control it and shape their own lives?
15. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since.
She has written an engrossing, unsentimental, beautifully poised account: as she struggles through the first months following the tragedy, furiously clenched against a reality that she cannot face and cannot deny; and then, over the ensuing years, as she emerges reluctantly, slowly allowing her memory to take her back through the rich and joyous life she’s mourning, from her family’s home in London, to the birth of her children, to the year she met her English husband at Cambridge, to her childhood in Colombo; all the while learning the difficult balance between the almost unbearable reminders of her loss and the need to keep her family, somehow, still alive within her.
16. Love in the Tsunami by Ashok Ferrey
Love in the Tsunami brings together a selection of Ashok Ferreys short fiction with four brand new stories. Enormously wide- ranging and endlessly inventive, Ashoks pen is rib- ticklingly funny and, occasionally, scathingly acerbic. He accurately portrays Sri Lanka in all its diversity.
The title story, set against the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 describes Veena Patels all- too- brief encounter with forbidden love. ‘But Did I Tell You I Can’t Dance?’is a hilarious fable about old age, its occasional humiliations and its many heartwarming victories. And in ‘Maleeshya’Ashok himself makes a cameo appearance as a dead author who has embarrassingly come back to life.
17. The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
In the 22nd century visionary scientist Vannevar Morgan conceives the most grandiose engineering project of all time, and one which will revolutionize the future of humankind of space: a Space Elevator, 36,000 kilometres high, anchored to an equatorial island in the Indian Ocean.
18. Anusha of Prospect Corner by A. M. Blair (Author), Maram Ken (Author), Samira Ken (Author)
For Anusha Smyth, four-leaf clovers pop out of the grass like 3D optical illusions, practically begging her to pick them. She hopes they’ll bring her luck. She has big plans for 7th grade, but first she needs to convince her mom to move back to the United States.
Unfortunately, a nosy neighbor keeps getting in the way. With Mrs. Lowry on the prowl — and she isn’t the only obstacle — Anusha’s going to need more than luck to make her dreams come true
This book is a special one as it was penned by a fellow Lankan blogger living abroad along with her two young daughters. For more on this project pls visit her blog.
I hope you can find a book to your liking among these wonderful titles listed above. I tried to cover as many genres as were available and as many sides to the Lankan culture as possible. In my hunt for literary gems I realized that most literature is based on either the Civil War that took place here a few decades ago which tore the country to pieces or on the recent extremely devastating tsumani that shook the nation back in 2004. I was rather disappointed to find that a solid Lankan Muslim perspective is lacking and hope this will change in the future.
If you have read any of the above or if there’s any other good recs I might have missed pls do let me know 🙂
I also have a happy piece of news!! If any of you want to get your hands on three of these books my friends over at So We Read This Book blog are conducting a giveaway for some of the books mentioned here. You should go sign up if you are interested.
I’m linking the blogs of our current family of known Sri Lankan book bloggers down below. Please do give their blog a look around and show them some love. They are simply the best (waaaaay better than me) and the awesomest group of people you’ll ever meet! I promise \^_^/ !
Gabrielle, Shehani and Safira @ So We Read This Book
Dashie @ The Swashbuckler
Nuzaifa @ Word Contessa
Mishma and Jillian@ Chasing Faerytales
Ruzaika and Veronica @ The Regal Critiques
Ranu @ The Araliya Bookshelf
Lady Disdain @ Lady Disdain Notes
Amal @ Misfortune of Knowing
Sinead @ Huntress of Diverse Books
I also recommend making a round trip to Sri Lanka if opportunity permits ^_^
Do take care everyone!! Happy reading!