The View from Here: Books from Sri Lanka

In the first of The View from Here series on literature from around the world, we travel to Sri Lanka with the help of book blogger Mystica.

mysticLet’s meet Mystica 

Mystica runs a long standing tea exporting and agricultural business with her husband. They grow  papaw, oranges, tea, coconut, pineapple and cinnamon through land holdings in many parts of Sri Lanka. When she is not travelling to the various properties or holidaying in her favourite destination of Singapore, Mystica likes to quilt and read. Her blog musingsfromsrilanka is mainly about books though she used to showcase some of her quilts on the site.  Her favourite authors are Susanna Kearsley, Diana Gabaldon and Alice Steinbach. Her favourite movie/TV adaptation of a novel is Pride and Prejudice (because she gets the chance to swoon at the sight of Colin Firth).

Q What kinds of books are the most popular right now in Sri Lanka?

viewfromhereIf you are speaking about the English language books, everyone who reads just tries to get their hands on their favourite genre. There is no big rush for a particular book though Harry Potter has his fans who do queue up when the inaugural book comes out!

Q. What do you and your friends like to read – books written by local authors or books from other parts of the world?

I enjoy books from every part of the world. I especially like stories of immigrants who have made another country their home. Looking at it now from a third generation point of view is wonderful.

Q. How do you and your friends typically get the books you read?

For me personally, I get them from a library run by a group of British ladies. The selection though limited sometimes turns up gems! They are all donations of expatriates and you do get variety. The public library in Colombo has mainly literature catering for students – you cannot get novels of the present era. You may have Shakespeare though.

I used to patronise two second hand book shops in Colombo but I have now decided not to buy any books as I am in a decluttering mode! Haven’t bought a book for over a year now.

Q. What books do you remember having to study in school that could be considered classics of Sri Lankan literature

That is a tough question! The only Sri Lankan based literature book I could think of is The Village in the Jungle by Leonard Woolf (husband of Virginia Woolf). A story of despair, struggle and non survival. Nothing could have been more depressing for a sixteen year old though looking back I do realize it was a very good story.

Upper school literature was firmly English based with The Cherry Orchard, Shakespeare in all its form and glory! Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Conrad and poetry ranging from Donne to Milton and Chaucer. A rather eclectic mix!

Q. is there such a thing as a uniquely Sri Lankan literary voice for example or is it very similar to  the literature of your neighbours, India?

It is not similar to India though we live adjacent to each other. There has always been much more freedom given to the girl child in Sri Lanka and this becomes apparent in the writing too.

Q. What recommendations would you have for readers who want to discover books written by authors from Sri Lanka?

There is a rich culture and tradition of writing and story telling in my country. Books by Sri Lankan authors could fall into two categories. Those with a Sri Lankan base – you are dealing with immigrant stories here and the difficulties of assimilating as well as the clash of cultures when you have an older generation born in a home country and a newer generation born in a more modern culture. For that representation we have Shyam Selvadorai, Roma Tearne, Ru Freeman, Shehan Karunatilleke, Michelle de Kretser.

We have the other genre of writers who write of present day Sri Lanka with a Sri Lankan base and background e.g. Ashok Ferrey or Ameena Hussain or Madhubashani Dissanayake.

EndNotes

If you’re interested in some of the writers Mystica highlighted from Sri Lanka, take a look at these links

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on September 5, 2013, in world literature and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I’ve never read any Sri Lankan literature before. I should give one or few of these a try!

    I have a question for Mystica, though: In what manner does the freedom given to the girl child affect Sri Lankan literature? Do you mean the themes are better then for women in SL lit, or that this freedom comes out in the voice of the female writers? I’m just trying to understand…^_^

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  2. Wow, this looks really promising. I’m glad you have organized it. Will look forward to more views. 🙂

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  3. Thanks to you for organizing this and to Mystica for sharing with us. I’ve read a fair bit of what I consider to be Sri Lankan literature, though in reality it is mostly written by those who have left Sri Lanka. Canada has a number of Sri Lankan writers who we also claim for our own – Michael Ondaatje and Shyam Selvadurai are probably the two most well known. This of course adds to the diversity of Canadian voices, but i wonder if those writers consider themselves Canadian or Sri Lankan or a combination of both.

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    • Thats a really interesting question – if you are born in one country but relocate to another, are you still a writer from the original country? Hmmm I suppose part of it depends on the age at which you changed countries

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