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.

1 comment:

  1. This is only a fictional storey. So the author has the right to her opinion.

    I have read the original 'Podu Purushaya' but not the translation. However I agree with the writer about Sri Lankan translations. For example I have read translation of 'Amba Yahaluwo' by T.B. Ilangarathne and it was not good at all.

    I am a person living in the UK for many years. I want my daughter who is born here to enjoy singhalese novels I have read. Unfortunately she can't read Singhalese and translations of the books we have will give bad impressions of our literature.