When you read a translation, and you don't like the book, you never know if its bad due to the translation or if the book is simply bad. My book crazy aunt had spoken so highly of Liyanage Amarakeerthi that I was quite excited when I got my hands on The Hour when the moon weeps. But the book did not live up to my expectations and I am not sure why. It is my gut feeling that the translator has not done the book justice and when I see that it won the HAI Goonetilleke Prize for best translation, I am doubly dissapointed. There are six short stories, it is a fairly slim book. Perhaps the trouble is with me, for when reading I was either bored or I just could not understand the stories. For example, a story titled Black Pokuta and Red Pokuta totally confused me. The story jumped time lines and tenses and in the end I was not sure between reality and imagination. Perhaps that was the author's intention, if so, then he succeeded.
I read this book as an indication of the state of contemporary Sinhala fiction writing. Perhaps I wanted to read stories that were modern and cutting edge and spoke of the dilemmas and lives of present day youth. Instead, what I got was traditional village scenes, of bathing beauties and thwarted love. The story I liked the best was the title story: it conveyed albeit disjointedly (but perhaps that is the writers style) the internal battle of a hardened criminal who aches for revenge.
Does a book lose something in translation? My personal opinion is that translation is not the word for word translating of a book but it should convey the sense, spirit, humour, darkness and joy that a book may hold. My feeling of Amarakeerthi's book is that the translator did a word for word translation which resulted in an awkward, clumsy rendition of what could have been a good book. Perhaps it is the lack of good translators that does not allow works from our three languages to cross into each other's worlds. I would be most interested to hear if there are other good translations of works from Sinhala or Tamil.