A compilation of Sri Lankan literature

Hello everyone!

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 🙂

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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!

 

 

 

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Review: Saree by Su Dharmapala

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The key phrase to this book is ‘fatefully yet surprisingly interwoven lives’. The extracting of silk and human elements and artfully weaving them into intricate patterns. The title in fact, is gleefully fitting. When I saw it on the book shelf at my local book store, I just knew and my expectations rose immediately, but I’m happy to say it delivered, plentifully. The novel wasn’t beauty and smiles all around, in fact it it makes you sit back and think of how life in the end, does come full circle.

First things first.

 

Definition of a saree

A saree is a garment worn by women across south Asia (from my knowledge predominantly those of south Indian and Sri Lankan origin). It is a long piece of cloth usually woven in silk or cotton, varying from 6-9 yards in length and 2-4 feet in breadth, that is wrapped around the waist, pleated, tucked and draped over one shoulder. Of course today how you drape, the designs and material all vary given the advent of fashion, but the traditional hand woven silk sarees in its customary designs and drape are highly respected. And yes it is the dress the lady on the cover of the book is wearing and a real life specimen of one is what the book is pictured on 😛

 

The Synopsis

One thing truly made me happy about this book. I know opinions will vary, but I whole heartedly love the blurb of the book. It gives us just enough to be intrigued but not enough to give away the whole story. So here it is for you:

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.

 

 

The Review

I believe life is an art. So it only makes sense that every act therefore in living has to be an art. Passion is key in attaining perfection, and in this story there is no end for passion. Whether it is for a person,  for a craft, skill or a dream, an undying fire from within will help one find opportunities in the most surprising of places.

The story in Saree, is predominantly set in Sri Lanka, during the Ealam War. There were rifts between races, and also within races. Life seemed to be a game of who is better than who. Innocents killed, brothers divided, friends turning their backs on each other. Among all this hatred and angst, were instances of purity, love, beauty and friendship. This is an aspect the writer has been successful in capturing in her story.

There’s many things to like in Saree. One aspect is the wonderful descriptions by the author. Be it the character building, the surroundings or even the conversation which are often peppered with the mother tongue of the speakers, the story seems to leap off the pages and one feels the anger of the mobs and the pitter patter of rain as one reads.

Character development was a pleasure to see. We are presented with six very different personalities, each with a different passion in life, and are touched by this one fateful saree. Each story is well planned and each in their own way unique. Each endearing, leaving us devastated at the end.  I especially liked Pilar and her story. I was awed by the courage Pilar showed when it came to the upbringing of her son and Raju’s life long memory of his wife.

I particularly enjoyed the factual weave into the fiction. A book from which you can take away something is always good. I learnt a lot about the saree making process from  acquiring the silk to spinning it, to weaving then finishing it draping it and the final look of it. You won’t need to take any saree spinning class in your life. Kudos to Ms Dharmapala for the extensive research you must have had to undertake for this 🙂

The book has a fragmented narrative, spanning time, religion, cities and continents and in my opinion, the writer, I’m so glad, didn’t disappoint. Every perspective of the story fit in and overall made for a delightful, page turning read. In saying this I must add that it is quite a long read as well, with a whopping 560 odd pages (in my copy at least). I didn’t actually read the book at a stretch. It felt right to reflect on each chapter after I was done with it for a few days before moving on to the next. Not only were the characters engaging, but the message the writer was inevitably conveying was too hard to ignore.

The initial literary reaction to the book aside, I must stress on the social commentary that has to be spoken of regarding the story. Directly or indirectly, the war touched on the lives of all people living in the country. How does one live with the knowledge of knowing that your best friend could turn his back on you, how could your own family set fire to your fiance just because  he was of another religion? Do the emotional scars ever go away, does one ever go back to living normally once the war was over? And yet there was society being cruel even in the face of the imminent death and one young woman worries for her future because her skin is darker.

The emotions in this story are very real, very raw and at every turn there is something holding our protagonists down. Does love conquer all, or do they need to resort to rebellion? I’d recommend this book for all ages, and I, myself will definitely be re-reading this book.

 

So go ahead pick up Saree some time soon, and lets get talking. If you have already read it, whose story resonated the most with you? What have you heard of the war in Sri Lanka? Lets talk about how wartime literature and how it helps bring out what really matters in life. Do scars heal once its over? Or does love heal all?

 

Su Dharmapala is a writer, social commentator and a blogger. She released her debut novel, Wedding Season in 2012 by Simon & Schuster, and this novel, Saree was released in 2014. 

Here’s a link to one of her interviews. I find it a great insight into how her books came to life.

 

 

 

Madol Doova – Martin Wickramasinghe | Review

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Synopsis

Madol Doova translated as Mangrove Island, written and set in rural Sri Lanka, is a sequence of escapades of a young boy, Upali, accompanied with his friend Jinna.

 
Upali’s mother passes away, and his mischievous antics prove unbearable to his father and step mother. He is sent away to board at his headmaster’s house with hopes of being tamed, but creates further havoc. His ever flowing energy cannot be tolerated by anyone so he leaves home. His friend Jinna follows him to Madol Doova. The story is an account of the adventures they have there, and how Upali the prankster matures and shows heroic stature in both the eyes of the reader and those who couldn’t in his youth tolerate him.

 

 

Review

To stress just how much I love this book, I must let you know that I’ve been re reading it at least once a year ever since I first came into possession of it back in Year 4 and every time its as lively and engaging as the first time I read it!

 

The amazingly descriptive text leaves not one stone unturned about the Sri Lankan culture. There is promise of an all-round Sri Lankan experience and the reader will end this tale visibly more knowledgeable about the country. The language of the narration is simple but the story is at a lively pace and you will find yourself in an adventure with every turn of the page.

 
Though the book is a mere 130 pages long, Mr. Wickramasinghe has successfully painted the country in its true colours of yellow orange and green accompanied by scenes and anecdotes of paddy fields, fishermen, tea and often superstition. The magic of the book goes beyond the spirits Upali encounters, all the way to the readers. I feel regardless of where you live or where Upali comes from, his trials, his emotions and the pickles he gets himself into are surprisingly relatable and reaches beyond cultures. There is something for everyone.

 
We find how the two boys fend for themselves during a period when such a thing was unimaginable. Today this seems an almost prophetic calling. The resourcefulness they show is an outlet to their mischievous nature, with the experience maturing them beyond what the people expect of them. His boyish sense of adventure and curiosity that was once an untamed burden for his family and the villagers, makes for a lively story for us the readers. There is always his never ceasing energy and spirit making Madol Doova a delightful account of a prankster showing courage and quickness of spirit when faced with adversity.

 
The book has been read, re read and cherished by generations of Lankan readers in its original language Sinhala. Since its first publications in 1947, it has been quickly translated to many other languages including English, Chinese and Russian and been continued to be loved around the world.

 
To those who are unfamiliar with Sinhalese terminology and local customs, though everything is very well explained, I’d recommend reading with a dictionary. The true beauty of the writing is in the clever yet simple weaving in of its words. I’ll post the glossary of the book for those of you who are curious to give the book a try.

 

 

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About the Author

Martin Wickramasinghe is one of Sri Lanka’s greatest authors. He began his career at age 13 and continued until he was 86 years old. His works being penned in both the English and Sinhala languages and thereafter being translated to many others languages. His stories outline simple rural Sri Lankan lives yet with a powerful human understanding. In his works he explores and applies modern knowledge on natural and social sciences, literature, philosophy and religion.

 

 

I know that the above book may not be as mainstream and modern as the works of fiction one reads today, but I thought its time my blog gives exposure to some literature from where I come from. Please do let me know if you’d like to see more such reviews of Lankan literature 🙂