ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 15

Leafing through their choice

By Smriti Daniel

Who could know a book more intimately than a writer? These recommendations came straight from the proverbial horses’ mouths, from the people who understand not only the craft of good writing, but the heart of it – the crazy intensity, the light laugh, the transcendent moment, the unforgettable character. Their own styles are as diverse as they are rich, and each has published their own works, from memoirs to short stories, from poetry to novels. This week we present for your delectation, the favourites of our favourites.

In Michael Ondaatje’s fourth book, Anil Tissera, having left her homeland at the tender age of 18, returns to Sri Lanka 15 years later. But Anil’s homecoming is far from pleasant – as the anthropologist for an international human rights fact-finding mission, Anil soon discovers the skeletons in the closet are very real. The stakes are upped when Anil and her colleague Sarath Diyasena uncover evidence of a government-sponsored murder. Drawn into a web of politics, paranoia, and tragedy, the two must discover the truth.

“It’s about Death, death that is difficult to mourn,” says Pradeep, adding that for him much of the book’s appeal lies in how Ondaatje approaches this issue from multiple points of view, exploring them fully, but refusing to decide between them. The book that draws on and links fields as diverse as medicine and Buddhism, pluralism and life in modern Sri Lanka, has been granted a place of honour on Pradeep’s bookshelf.

Pradeep Jeganathan’s first work of fiction ‘At the Water’s Edge’ was short listed for the 2004 Gratiaen Prize.

This beautiful fable introduces Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who one night dreams of a distant treasure in the Egyptian pyramids.

There is nothing for it but that Santiago must – quite literally – set off in pursuit of his dream. In the course of his journey he will visit many places, learn many truths, and meet many people...eventually finding his way to an alchemist. Inevitably, the two develop a close relationship. Santiago’s new mentor helps the young shepherd straighten out his somewhat misguided agenda, even as he encourages him to always stay true to his dreams.

The Alchemist converted Timothy into an ardent fan of the Brazilian author. Describing the work as dreamy and profound, Timothy says that he has gone back to the book time and again, only to discover that it has some new insight to offer.

Timothy Seneviratne is the author of the children’s favourite ‘The Three Friends and The Big Wave’.

Jean describes ‘Erasure of the Euro-Asians’ as one of the best researched and most thought provoking books she has read in a long time. “Reading this gave me so much insight into ethnic communities like the Burghers and other Eurasians,” she says, explaining that she was fascinated by the perceptive and detailed revelations about the lives, alliances, marriages and politics that that guided such communities.

The book also studied the women of that era, discussing their many achievements and myriad responsibilities. For Jean it serves, not only as inspiration for one of her own works – Dragons in the Wilderness - but also a testimonial to the importance of recovering early radicalism and feminism in south Asia.

Jean Arasanayagam’s latest work is her autobiography ‘A Nice Burgher Girl’.

‘Christine’ is the extraordinary story of an intelligent and sensitive young woman growing up in Ceylon. Daughter of Dr. R. L. Spittel –‘The Surgeon in the Wilderness’ – Christine’s unusual upbringing brought her into contact with an eccentric cast of characters, including Sri Lanka’s indigenous people - the Veddahs.

In nearly a century of living, Christine travels extensively, discovering always an enduring passion for the untouched wilderness. Laced through her narrative is an unshakeable love for her husband of more than sixty years – Alistair Wilson. Christine’s memoirs allow the reader vibrant glimpses of life through an indomitable young woman’s eyes. Rich in both sentiment and experience, her memoirs are beautifully and honestly written, says Carl.

Carl Muller’s latest novel, ‘Wedding Night,’ was launched in June this year.

Describing himself as awed by the brilliant structure and style of the narrative, Tissa, places ‘Divisidero’ among Ondaatje’s finest works. Set in the California of the 1970s, the novel follows the lives of Anna and Claire. The two are inseparable, sharing an almost exclusive bond until Coop, a boy from the neighbouring farm, comes into their lives.

Soon, he becomes the third point in a strangely interdependent, intimate triangle. But when disaster strikes, the trio are broken apart.

We find that Anna, resurfacing as an adult living in a rural French village, has dedicated herself to researching the life of Gallic author, Jean Segura – a man who lived nearly a century in the past.

Here the narrative bifurcates to follow Segura’s life before World War I, leaving – in typically Ondaatje fashion - the stories of Coop, Claire and Anna enigmatically unresolved. The two tales, juxtaposed, challenge readers to discover the underlying, explosive links between past and present.

Tissa Abeysekera’s latest book ‘Roots, Reflections and Reminiscences’ was launched last month.

Of the book, Yasmin says: “In the pages of my current favourite, The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith writes about Botswana with affection, bringing it to life in a manner only comparable with R.K. Narayan’s evocation of his wonderful Malgudi. As for Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s wise and resourceful lady detective, she is the true sister of Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Austen’s Emma, standing with them among the world’s great literary characters, generating such joy that a reader wishes each book in which she appears would go on for ever.”

Yasmine Gooneratne’s latest novel is ‘The Sweet & Simple Kind’.

Napoleon Bonaparte, Lawrence of Arabia, and Alexander the Great all stride across the pages of one of David’s favourite books. Divided into five parts - Self-Directed Warfare, Organizational (Team) Warfare, Defensive Warfare, Offensive Warfare and Unconventional (Dirty) Warfare – the book provides a thorough analysis of different strategies, offering descriptions of battles, political and business situations, along with Greene’s own analysis.

David Blacker is the author of ‘A Cause Untrue’.

The Alexandria Quartet, a cycle of novels published between 1957 and 1960, is made up of four novels – ‘Justine’, ‘Balthazar’, ‘Mountolive’, and ‘Clea’. Chronicling the life and times of a diverse ensemble of characters in Alexandria, Egypt in the 1940s, Durrell’s immensely popular work has been dubbed an “investigation of modern love”.

Remembering having first read the ‘Justine’ as a young woman, Christine says that the book remains among her favourites. Describing the first book in the quartet, Christine says, “I think Durrell makes her [Justine] come alive and he does it with such beautiful language.”

Christine Spittel Wilson is the author of ‘Christine: A Memoir’.


Colombo’s abuzz with books!

It’s back again. All roads lead to the BMICH it seems as the Colombo International Book Fair, organized by the Sri Lanka Book Publishers’ Association is drawing the crowds once more.

Regarded as a “growing fair”, this annual book exhibition which is now in its ninth year will continue until September 16, open from 9.30 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day. Over 300,000 people are expected to attend the event this year.

The main objective of this year’s fair, according to the President of the Sri Lanka Book Publishers’ Association Ranjith Samaranayake is to develop the reading habit among people and thereby build a book culture. The public continues to show great interest and enthusiasm for the Colombo International Book Fair which is approaching its 10th anniversary, he added.

Held in connection with the literary month, September, the book fair this year consists of over 180 book stalls including 42 foreign participants representing India, Singapore, USA and UK. The majority are booksellers and publishers.

Many book launches will take place during the course of the book fair. There will also be a range of children’s activities, reading sessions and a copyright clinic conducted by Dr. D. N. Karunaratne.

The Colombo International Book Fair is sponsored by M.D. Gunasena along with other bookstores in the country. Entrance is free.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.