A recent trend in Sri Lanka is to start writing books at a young age. A few years ago, a fourteen year old boy wrote a thriller. It was well written if somewhat gruesome and disconcerting from one so young. The latest book in this trend is from a fifteen year old school girl. Colombo Streets, has a catchy title and a distinctive cover. The production of the book is good and inviting to the casual reader. And after seeing the launch in the newspaper I was intrigued and picked the book up. But I was soon to decide that if there is any reason to ban children from writing books, this is it.
After having read the book, and expressed my displeasure to my friends, I honestly had no intention of reviewing the book, as I thought this blog had dealt too much with bad writing and was looking around for a good book of Sri Lankan literature. But after reading the interview that Thisuri Wanniarachchi gave to the Nation newspaper, I felt that I had to write a review on both her interview and her book.
First the interview: She claims that she doesn’t like to read much and she hates reading. She implies that reading is a waste of her time and she may as well spend that time writing. Here is a piece of advice: You can’t be a good writer, unless you are a good reader. She has the audacity to admit that she has a weak vocabulary because she doesn’t read much and that people have called her writing style ‘simple’. She is under a misconception. Her writing style is not simple, it is simply bad.
Her interview goes on to say much more that is silly and trite and I wont dwell much more on that. Now onto the book.
The gist of the book is as follows: A young Tamil girl from Kilinochchi is adopted at the age of ten by a Sinhala grandmother who lives in Colombo. Favoured by the grandmother, cheekily called J- Lo, her Sinhalese adopted sister Sarah feels jealous of Indeevari. Sarah, a champion swimmer begins to feel ill and to everyone’s shock and disappointment she is diagnosed with cancer. She moves to Singapore for treatment and after some time she is sent back to Sri Lanka with no hope for recovery. Eventually, after being introduced to a charismatic Buddhist priest she is healed.
It should have been a feel good book but it wasn’t. Why was this?
According to Thisuri’s interview the ultimate message of the book apparently is to leave people with cancer a message of hope. But there were so many other messages found in the book that reduced her primary message. For instance, there were many complicated situations that needed to be handled delicately – the issue of displacement, cancer, ethnic conflict, generation gap, adoption etc. The book seemed to breeze through not tackling any issue with the sensitivity and delicacy that was warranted. In fact, the book almost trivialized all the issues it dealt with.
Unevenly handled, the book glosses over Indeevari’s situation of displacement, conflict, and adoption. The book also handled the subject of cancer carelessly, which is a disservice to those stricken with cancer and who know first hand what it is to go through a serious illness.
I would like to end on a positive note, therefore I would say that Thisuri’s use of language was modern and young and reflective of the age of the narrator.
A word of advice to indulgent parents: Encourage your children to read first, buy them books, rather than publish their book. They will thank you for it, when they are ready to write their novel as adults.