This compendium of short stories selected from the writings of internationally reputed writers and translated into Sinhala, opens windows to the creative work of many writers of fiction in English. The translator has selected the works of a wide range of writers, most of whose short fiction is known to readers of English. But it is to the reader in Sinhala to whom creative writing in English is a closed book that this collection would be of greater importance.
If translations are the ‘traffic between nations’, as has often been said, then this collections brings to the Sinhala reader much more than mere fiction. Admittedly the fiction is a high order considering that these are products of internationally known and respected writers. Through their creativity the reader’s mind opens to different cultures, traditions and life styles of these writers.
They bring to the reader a glimpse of situations, hopes and aspirations of other cultures, other peoples. An effort such as this compendium is commendable if only for this aspect. But there is more. Mendis has selected his stories with care and precision and balanced his choice well. Thus we get a general idea of the writing of Russian, English, Indian, French, Japanese and American authors. From among these he has made his own personal selection of stories. Readers familiar with the works of Anton Chekhov, O. Henry, Maugham, Guy de Maupassant, Mulk Raj Anand and other well known writers from these countries will find fresh insights into their work in the Sinhala translations.
A translator’s task is not a mere transference of written material from one language to another. There is a creative process involved in transferring writing of one language to another. It is not a mechanical interpretation. A translation is something quite different from creative writing in one’s own language. A sound knowledge of the two languages concerned – (in this case Sinhala and English) is just part of the process of translations.
Added to this there should be a certain kind of creativity in the transfer of thoughts, concepts, nuances in the language of one language to the other. Also, the cultural aspect of the original work has to be taken into consideration and exactitude is vital if the translator is to do full justice to the original work. This has to be strongly emphasized in translating from one language to another. As Robert Lowell said, a perfect translation is not just a translation. It is a ‘transcreation”.
Chandana Mendis is to be congratulated not only in his choice of English fiction, but also on the sensitive handling of his material when transferring these into his own Sinhala. It is clear that not only is his knowledge of the two languages more than merely adequate, but that he has a strong grasp of both. He has had a number of translations published over the years in addition to several publications in Sinhala. Reading through this selection of translations it is evident that his previous experience has stood him in good stead in compiling this translated work.
This collection was preceded by a previous similar collection of short stories of world renowned writers which, according to the translator was well received and encouraged him to take on the task of translating the work of another 25 writers.