Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Prince by Manu Gunasena

This is a story that has been told for hundreds of years in many different ways. Yet, while it is a story that all of us know there are many who have not read it. When I picked up The Prince by Manu Gunasena I was pleasantly surprised to find that it read well and was simply told. In fact so simply that at first I was under the impression it was a book written for children.

The book starts with the dilemma of a North Indian prince who has been having confusing dreams. Living a life of decadence (dancing girls, Madeira wine, music) the young prince finds himself bored and unchallenged. He wants something but cannot quite name his want.

That is our introduction, the next chapter takes us to the very beginning of the tale - the story of the miraculous birth of the prince. The two childless wives of the king beg him to take another wife, then, the elder wife dreams of a white elephant entering her soul. Thereafter is the conception and birth of the prince followed by predictions of fame, fortune and worldly power.

The prince grows up within the palace, lacking for nothing. He is cosseted and protected and sees nothing but luxury and 'happy' things. But his search for that certain something ensures that he rebels and eventually he comes face to face with the very elements that the king wanted to protect him from: old age, sickness, death and the ascetic.

He now finds a name for his quest- the Stoic Stone and soon he leaves home as a mendicant in search of this elusive prize. Eventually after many years and many paths, he finds it. The Stoic Stone or Nirvana as we know it becomes his forever.

Many readers would have guessed that the story is about Lord Buddha, however, credit goes to Manu Gunasena for retelling this ancient tale in a straightforward yet interesting way. Admittedly many adults might find the book too simple for them but towards the end of the book, it shifts direction and becomes sharply philosophical.

The book is a very easy read with each chapter featuring a Manu Gunasena poem. This is one feature I could have done without. The poems were not very good and detracted from the tightness of the chapters. Consider one:

Betwixt life's splendour and fates' gloom

the Prince now rooted stood;

He had himself, the knowledge loomed,

sans thought spawned sorrow's brod.

Now that he had sired sorrow

His search couldn't wait the morrow,

now nothing would intrude;

To stir his will, his pledge fulfill;

Renounce the world; the truth distill.

If I have a resevation about this book, it is that he will lose his audience. If they are children by the time they get to the end of the book, they will get lost within the philosophical debate. If they are adults they might get bored before they got to the philosophical debates. But all in all it is an interesting read and a book I would recommend parents buy and read to their children. For in the end, it is a story that deserves to be told, it is a story worth knowing.


  1. I wonder how it compares to Herman Hesse's Siddartha which is probably the work that most people in the West would be familiar with.

  2. Hesse's work was far more sophisticated than this one. As I said, this one read more for children, while Herman Hesse's work once read might even convince you to leave your life as you know it in search of ultimate bliss. Now that is a successful book!

  3. hey you should read and review Chinaman by Shehan and Chucking the Dragon by Mark wilde...saw either?

  4. Hey Anonymous, I actually have both books by my bedside. As to when I will actually get to them, who knows. Sigh! Wish I had reading as my job.

  5. i think both are great books, who would have thunk that two sri lankans could write decent stuff on cricket and heroin...maybe sri lankan writing in english is going somewhere, finally

  6. I am one of those optimistic creatures and think that Sri Lankan literature has a lot of potential. I am always open to suggestions, so others too please send me your recommendations for books to review.

  7. Vihanga Perera's Unplugged Quarter?

  8. My next review will be Chucking the Dragon, I get scared when I see the size of Chinaman, I haven't bought or being given Vihanga Perera's Unplugged Quarter as yet. In time perhaps.