Tuesday, June 25, 2013

open words are for love-letting by Malinda Seneviratne

One of the best things about having friends who read, is that you can borrow their books. Though, some are as protective of their books as they are about their money! Visiting friends last week, I saw this book of poetry lying on their coffee table and asked to borrow it. What with Malinda being short-listed for the Gratiaen and all and I don't think, this book is available for sale, I was interested.
This is the third or fourth time Malinda has been short-listed for the Gratiaen and not won. A sort of record in itself I think. From what I heard of his previous work, he is a good poet and this book confirms the impression. Malinda is a damn good poet!
Firstly, I love the title: open words are for love-letting. The poems are a mix of the personal and the political. From poems about his sister (I was recently told she is Ru Freeman), to daughters, father, mother (the poem is called Ammi) he goes on to make poetry on The Mother of all Wars, War criminality, An open end-note from Geneva etc.
I am not an academic analytic critic. But I am a reader. I read something - I like it or I don't like it and use this blog to talk about some books I have read. For me, poetry should be enjoyment, whether it makes me think, whether I love the way, the words trip fast upon each other, the rhythm, the words, the sound. So for me, it is all the more difficult to review a book of poetry, as there could be good poems and bad poems in the mix offered but all in all most of the poems I read in this collection, I liked.
But after all this, I have a question: Why didn't Malinda win the Gratiaen? Aside from his politics, he is a good poet and shouldn't that be the criteria for winning? I have read Lal Medawattegedera's pervious works and didn't like any of them. I doubt that he can develop to be a writer of such astounding quality that he just had to win the Gratiaen. I saw Kalumaali and thought it was dreadful (poor Ruwanthi, what happened?), and then we have two unknowns - Rizvina Morseth and Saroj Sinnathamby alias Ashok Ferrey and we all know what his writing is like. Rizvina is the unknown quantity here. If she didn't win and being extremely biased against the other contenders, either the work or their previous writing style, I would have put my bets on Malinda winning. But he didn't. To answer my question we will have to wait a whole year for Lal to put his novel out for us readers to judge, a year too late, if he was worthy or not. And you can bet on it, that I will be reading the book.

I leave with one of Malinda's poems:

Differently colored sibling
non-identical twin
of city space
and urban things,
territory of the timeless
the hide and seek
and seek for hide,
target and shoot,
spotted meat
and jaw-jaw
fang and claw,
visitor's unmercuried mirror
reflecting but unseen

I don't know where you can buy the book, but if you see it lying on a friend's coffee table. Pick it up. Its worth a read.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

There is something about reading a book that is talked about so much. Everybody asks me, wherever I go, if I have read this book. It comes highly recommended and so it travelled to the top of my 'must read' list. I was a little frightened. Would the book make me so sad that I would get depressed and think about it all the time? Would I cry? Would I be able to finish it? etc etc.
Wave, is a book by a tsunami survivor. An expat Sri Lankan who was on holiday in Sri Lanka and was in Yala with her husband, her two young sons and her parents. They had been staying for four days in a hotel just outside the wildlife park and had even met a friend there. A young woman who lived in America and would teach Sonali's young boys the violin whenever they visited the home country together.
The book starts with the tsunami. You are taken straight to the event. That morning, when they saw the wave and began running. Running past her parents room, running, running. Getting into a jeep and finding her music friend and her father also in the jeep there. You understand, the panic at the moment, when she talks about the music friend's mother unable to clamber onto the jeep, being left behind, and the father jumping out to be with her. All seems well, there is no water in the car park, the hotel is as it should be. But soon after the jeep is in water, water in the jeep, up to the chest, then it turns over.
She next wakes up after it is all over. When she is rescued she is all alone. No husband, no children, no friend. She is found and taken to the ticket office at the entrance to the park. Then later to the hospital.
From then on, Sonali relates the events that followed and what happened to her and her life on the loss of virtually her whole family. She gives you in blinding detail her thoughts, her feelings, her suicidal wishes, her support system, her inability to cope with the loss and how some nine years later, it is still raw, still painful, still horrible. She is still alone. She writes well, and she write honestly. There is even humour in this book, and that is an amazing feat. She is a very brave woman, I thought, at times. She is so open about her feelings. She is so frank and wishes to portray it as it is, no whitewashing here.
I had feelings, when I was reading the book. But I don't want to talk about them now, I will mention them later in this review. At the end of the book, I closed it and continued to sit on the chair by the window, looking out at the street below, watching cars and people walk by and thought of Sonali and her tragedy.
But now, here is my secret, I just didn't like the book. I was moved, I was sad, I thought it the most horrible thing to happen to a person, but what did it teach me? What was left when I finished the book?
I have read any number of personal tragedy stories, all quite different from Sonali's, some to do with gang rape, others of wrongful imprisonment, of torture, of hostage, of losing family under different circumstances, of war, natural disasters etc, but I was drawn to each of those books, because the survivor (because you have to be a survivor in some sense to even write about the event) has come to some resolution. Despite all they have gone through, they have come to a point in their life, where some peace, some enlightenment, for lack of a better word has entered their soul. And then I realized, that is what has happened. When Sonali lost her family, she lost her soul. The entire book is an ode to herself. It is to some extent self-centered in a way and there is a refusal to change. She is unable to change, move forward, understand what has happened. She lives continually in that moment, unable to see anything or anyone else.
I thought about the hundreds of other women on the North or East Coast who endured first war, then the tsunami and lost many family members. I thought of those on the South Coast who were poor and then the tsunami came and took everything including family members. If they wrote their story, how would it be, what would their lives be like, their mental state etc. And yes, they didn't, so we have this story to show us, what perhaps thousands of others have gone through and are possibly going through. But, somehow, I know, that there is a different story out there, of someone who came out of it and would show me through her example, through her loss and resolution, what it is to be a greater human being. Someone who can teach me how to be a better person. How, after going through the most horrible loss, can still come out of it and show me, teach me, what is to be human. And you know what? I have discovered, that there are others out there, who also didn't like the book for the same reasons. It seems almost heartless to not like the book, but there you have it. I too have to be honest about a book I read.