Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chilli Chicks and Heart Attacks by Sanjaya Senanayake

Its Book Fair time again and off I went trotting to the BMICH the first day. Man, was it crowded? More people there for the scene than the books me thinks, but no matter I knew what I was there for. I headed to my favourite once a Book Fair year stop - the PH book stall and picked up my loot. So know that the next few reviews are going to be my haul.
This book is fairly new - last year I believe and to be honest, the cover caught my eye (Yes, yes, I am shallow and judge all books by their covers). I was a bit thrown at the beginning and didn't know who the author was until I started reading the book. But my aunt (yes we have an incestuous reading relationship) who I gave the book to, bless her soul, was confused and kept thinking that Sanjaya Senanayake was the grandson of Dr Manjula Mendis and that the story was all true. She is still reading the book and I have to assure her from time to time the story is all lies :)
Well this book is a riot and a hoot. I haven't read much humourous stuff written by Sri Lankans and while I loved Colpetty People which was hilarious then Ashok Ferrey degenerated into mocking rather than funny. I think with the war and all, we were wallowing in depth and conflict and sorrow and all that downer stuff. So perhaps its just good timing that this book which is totally irreverent, funny, sexy, (well there is a lot of sex) and plain ol fun reading came out when it did. This book will not win any prizes, it is just too flippant and unserious for that, but is definitely worth a read.
So now let me stop waffling and get on with the book. Dr Manjula Mendis has just graduated as a doctor and begins his internship at the prestigious St Ivanhoe Hospital in Australia? Not sure about the country but it is Oz or the US. Anyway, his very traditional and Sri Lankan parents want him to settle down and find a good Sri Lankan girl and so after boasting about their son, they spend the rest of their time looking for the perfect match. Dr Mendis has a foul mouthed sister who makes appearences throughout the book to either complicate his life or to inject some xxx rated words into the text. She is funny but perhaps the most unreal character for me. His colleagues are all wierd in some way or the other with even wierder names (that too was not a favourite for me). Then you have the film star Salma Cruz(Hayek and Penelope combo?) who lives in his imagination spicing up his sex life and his dreams.
The book is full of interesting medical titbits that always border on the insanely wierd, there is adventure, spice, mystery, competition, and at last happiness. It is after I finished the book that some of the names began to make sense to me! Perhaps you will get it faster. I'll let you read it and find out what I mean. Anyway, it's nice to see Sri Lankan writers getting into humour, a much needed category and it is a fabulous holiday read.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Metta by Sunethra Rajakarunanayake

If all of you thought I had upped and gone, 'tis not so! I took a long break from reading books by Sri Lankan authors, so thank you for all the messages and inquires, and yep, I am still here.
A few days ago, my trusty aunt thrust this book into my hands and as I am always curious about what's happening in the Sinhala literature scene, grabbed it and read it.
What a book! I had not heard of Sunethra Rajakarunanayake (quite a mouthful, that last name) but when I googled her she seems to have published many books and won quite a few awards. The story is set in modern times - unlike English writing by Sri Lankans, the vernacular novels have moved far from the waluwa, oppressed labourers and exploitative landlords. A young woman Varnasi, an enigmatic man called Sasha, a mother and grandmother are the main characters. Sasha who once courted the mother is now with the daughter. Hmmm quite a love triangle there isnt it? I cant think of a single Sri Lankan novel in English that dares to deal with this kind of scenario. The daughter Varnasi, ignorant of her mother and Sasha's relationship refuses to listen to her mother's advice to stay away from Sasha. Sunethra R does not shy away from controversial and contemporary issues. Illicit pregnancy, female headed households, working mothers, and a country in conflict are themes that run through the novel.
If there is a criticism against the novel is that the portrayal of men is totally inadequate. Sasha seems to be the only man portrayed wholly and yet his portrayal is of a completely flawed man. The novel starts off well with Sasha's point of view but then he is reduced to a caricature only to be revealed to us through Varnasi and her mother. We never hear Sasha's point of view again and that is a pity. Also it could have done with a whole load of editing. The novel was unnecessarily too long and dragged on, weighting it down. The mother and daugter had similar voices and you could almost think it was the Author's views that were coming through both. While they were interesting and compelling characters it might have been nice to have diverse views especially when it came to expounding Buddhist philosophy. The book felt slightly preachy on a Buddhistic note. I had to do a double take when Varnasi talks about loving Sasha like a child instead of a lover and thought it was a bit sick! But then again maybe that is the ultimate love. And perhaps the author was juxtaposing carnal love with selfless love. All in all the book was a good read and I liked it.
But ... If I have a reservation at all about this book it is for the translation.
Many of the books that I read are translations and I never for a moment think that I am reading a translation. Isabel Allende, Umberto Eco, Marquez, Parmuk, Peter Hoeg and the list goes on and on. In those books the story flows, the English is natural and there is no theses at the beginning and end of the book. Sadly, Metta struggles only because of the translation, it is a testament to Sunethra R's story that you plow through the book regardless of the clumsy and heavy translation. It might be worthwhile for future translators to study how other authors like those mentioned above, all the Russian authors, even Coelho are translated without the reader being aware even once it was written in a language other than English.
It is my personal opinion that we have a long way to go in good translation but don't let it deter you from reading this book.