Tales of the unexpected and near impossible

Book facts: Nimal Sanderatne’s Destiny and other Stories. Kandy Books 2009. Reviewed by Professor Ashley Halpé

Nimal Sanderatne’s fourth book of stories is most appropriately named. It is more than a matter of the title being the title of the first story in this collection. In all the stories we find the dramatis personae discovering destinies which are often not guessed but are always believable.

Nimal has brought his command of nuance, effective undulation, the placing of echoes and satisfying resolution to a high level of accomplishment. We see interesting variations in the combination of these elements of the story-teller’s art in this volume. Tale after tale surprises the reader. The range is great.

In the first story, Sanderatne creates a winding tale with a deeply satisfying finale to a story of mingled reality and romance. It ends with the protagonist being rewarded in a beautiful romance without the slightest touch of sentimentality, though every perceptive and sensitive reader will probably come to the last words with a happy tear in the corner of an eye.

Immediately after Destiny comes the amusing game with the unsuspecting salesman making the phone call in the story of that name – The Phone Call. This is followed by the deliberate exchanging of two destinies by the father of two brothers in Two Brothers.

The disconsolate father fails to understand even at the end that he had brought his sadness on himself by exchanging the horoscopes of the two boys. The tale that follows, The Siren from India, is a rich cocktail of a very adult mixture of potent elements. Among these is a very tasteful handling of open sensuality, which we find placed side by side with the unfolding of a tale of mystery.

But the author keeps a card up his sleeve in an unexpected coda which carries the protagonist fifteen years forward in his life. In this coda we have him teased by the nuances of a voice which was a central part of his richly savoured plunge into passion.

But the protagonist himself is not able to wing back in memory either to the voice or the episodes of that night of passion – though the thoughtful reader will certainly be able to recover both. Only one of the stories is called Twist of Fate but actually several can be put into that category. The twist in that story is the surprising exchange of roles of two female undergraduates – one attractive, impressive and intelligent while the other seems quite mousey and unimpressive.

But the former oversleeps, fails to get to the examination hall in time for the first paper and hence fails while the other young woman gets a first class and goes on to become a successful academic. Some other stories that fit into this category with their surprise endings, all of which are very subtly worked out, are Misfortune, Platonic Love, The Confession, Only Son, The Engineer, Couples and Coincidences. The author shows considerable expertise at making the twists always believable and never artificial.

In Barnajee goes to the Bridle Path, The Ice Cream Story and Love Letters, he pushes the art of the possible to the limit and yet achieves in every case conclusions no reader will want to reject.

Along the way we get many situations of appealing pathos, as in The Confession and Only Son, and attractively subtle humour, for instance in The Ice Cream Story and Love Letters. Taken as a whole, this volume is a well-designed exploration of the art of the short story. Writing this review, I had to go back many times to specific stories.

In every case I rediscovered and savoured anew the many examples of pathos and humour while also appreciating the insights with which the author makes them all illuminations of our reality.

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