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.
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?
If 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.
- Interview with Michelle de Kretser in The Independent June 2013
- Shehan Karunatilleke announced as winner of 2012 Commonwealth book prize: article in The Guardian June 212
- Feature from Emory University on Shyam Selvadoria
- Blogger interview with Ru Freeman at The Bookslut
- Interview with Roma Tearne at The New Londoners