The article I did on the Martin Wickramasinghe collection housed at the National Library and Documentation Services Board (NLDSB) in Colombo.
Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian born Nobel Prize winning writer is best known worldwide for his two most popular novels – One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera.
While I ve enjoyed reading Love in the Time of Cholera, I haven’t been able to digest the other of the two books that eagerly but then there is more to the great writer than those two books as I discovered after reading “Memories of My Melancholy Whores.”
It was one of those books I randomly picked up from the book shop, being impressed by its outer appearance as well as the synopsis .I was not disappointed as the story turned out to be the most unlikely sort of “love story”, if you could call it that.
Well for a start the protagonist is a man who gets by in life due to his writing skills, who on his ninetieth birthday decides to treat himself to a night of love with a virgin. So he calls up the madam of the “illicit house” that he had patronized from his young years but where he has not gone in nearly 20 years and asks her to procure the virgin for him. How much more bizarre can a story get, you will begin to wonder at this point. A ninety year old man trying to procure an adolescent virgin? It does sound absurd but the man himself admits that at his age he knows “what he can and cannot do.”
The woman does succeeded in finding the virgin but what follows is not exactly what one would expect to happen. The night of love does not end the way as expected and for the protagonist, who remains unnamed throughout the book, it is the start to the buildup of brand new emotions that he has never felt in his life before. Instead of lust which is what he associated with his acquaintances with women throughout his life, be begins to feel love for the young girl, who driven by poverty has to work as a whore to support her family.
As the story unfolds, we learn about the early life of the 90-year-old man, his parents and his life spent as a bachelor. All his life he has paid for sex but now, even at the age of 90, he wants things to change. As one of his former love- for- hire women tells him quite bluntly, “ Don’t let yourself die without knowing the wonder of fucking with love. “Fortunately for him, there is love waiting for him even in his old age.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is known for writing unconventional stories and this is another one of them. It’s easy to read and a complete page turner. Makes you wonder if it’s ever too late to start living the life you want.
When an author writes a universally loved book like The Kite Runner, then anything else that follows is going to be a little disappointing. So Khaled Hosseini, the Afghan born American writer who became a literary sensation overnight with the release of The Kite Runner in 2003 has a tough act to follow even if it is his own act. The Kite Runner was followed by A Thousand Splendid Suns and I was disappointed with the latter. The Kite Runner has such a special place in my heart that I was already biased when I picked up Hosseini’s second book. And now with his latest book, And the Mountains Echoed, I feel the same way.
But even if it does not measure up to The Kite Runner, And the Mountains Echoed is written with the same sense of nostalgia with which Hosseini writes about his native land Afghanistan. He revisits the country that was an idyllic place in the early 1950s and disintegrated into a place of bloodshed and misery by the 1980s and 1990s and continues to be a troubled nation till today.
The story begins portraying the deep bond between a brother and sister who are separated when the girl is given away for adoption to a rich couple who live in the Afghan capital Kabul. It beings in the early 1950s and ends in 2010 by which time lives have changed dramatically, many of the main characters have lived and died and everyone’s life has got more complicated. There are families and extended families, there are secrets that get gradually unraveled as the pages turn but some secrets remain untold till the end.
The inspiration for the Book’s title is a poem by William Blake (1757–1827) called the Nurse’s Song. Here is the poem for those who would like to read it.
WHEN the voices of children are heard on the green,
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast,
And everything else is still.
‘Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away
Till the morning appears in the skies.’
‘No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,
And we cannot go to sleep;
Besides, in the sky the little birds fly,
And the hills are all cover’d with sheep.’
‘Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
And then go home to bed.’
The little ones leapèd and shoutèd and laugh’d
And all the hills echoèd.
Yesterday, it was my birthday
I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My life’s a mess
But I’m having a good time……..Paul Simon
A few days ahead of my own birthday, I have decided to write about the anthology of birthday stories aptly titled Birthday Stories by Haruki Murakami which contains some of the best short stories I have had the pleasure of reading.
Published in 2006, it contains 13 short stories all of which have a birthday theme. Murakami has penned one of the stories himself titled Birthday Girl to be included in the anthology.
A birthday is usually a day of celebration and fun but it can also become a memorable day for various other reasons. Reading through the collection selected by Murakami, one realizes that birthdays are also days that can become memorable for some strange reasons. It can be a day that brings back memories of a forgotten lover; a day one avoids spending time with the people who are closet to you or be a day one wants to spend by oneself.
My oldest son was born on my husband’s birthday so that is a birthday story we get to repeat from time to time. But I guess everyone has their own birthday story to tell and remember.
One story in the anthology in particular titled The Moor by Russell Banks has got me so hooked that, since I first read it more than two years ago, I have read and re-read it so many times that I know most of it by heart. As Murakami says in the introduction to The Moor, “the dark sense of pain that lingers after you have finished reading it” makes it an irresistible story.
In the introduction to the anthology, Murakami gives the reader an insight into what a birthday means to him. That, for me, is a separate story by itself.
The book begins with the words of a well-known song by Paul Simon – Have a Good Time. It’s worth a listen.
“Chance encounters are what keep us going.” – Haruki Murakami – Kafka on the beach.
A few days ago, I opened up the page in a weekend newspaper which carries appreciations written about people who have passed away. Among them was the picture of a lady whose face looked familiar. I read the name and realized she was someone I had met briefly about two years ago. We met briefly but she had left a lasting impression on me. She was beautiful and kind and even though it was our first ever meeting (and sadly the last) she opened up to me as if I were an old friend. I instantly developed an admiration for her and I repeated the story of my meeting with her to many of my others friends and family members.
It all started when I decided I should act to make my dream of opening up a reading room cum library a reality. I had been speaking about it to my close friends for long but all I did was talk and forget about it. So I decided to place an advertisement in the newspaper looking for a place I could open up such a place. I was looking for a place where the rent would be low but be a centrally located place in the city. (A near impossibility given the high rates for rent these days). I placed my email address in the advertisement for those interested to contact me.
A few days later I had an email from a lady who wrote saying she did not have a place for me to rent but she could give me some books. Being the book crazy person I am, I was thrilled and called up the number she had mentioned in the email. She answered and asked me to come over the following Sunday afternoon. I still remember it so well. When I arrived at the plush apartment she lived in, she greeted me with a friendly smile and we got chatting. She asked me what I did and I told her I was a journalist. Then she told me she herself had been selected while she was studying in the university to work as a freelance journalist but her boyfriend at the time had been against the idea and hence she did not pursue it. She had subsequently got married, moved to England, had kids and settled down to a life of domesticity. Now she was a grandmother and was more relaxed and was spending time traveling between London and Colombo. “I really regret I did not become a journalist. Things would have been very different in my life if I had,” she told me. Then we talked a little about our families and life in general and discussed her love for Indian television serials and books .She picked up from her shelf the books she liked the best and handed them to me. One in particular was a book on Marilyn Monroe, which contains lovely pictures of the actress. It was one of her favorites, she told me, but said I could have it as she did not need it any more. I wanted to pay for the books but she was hesitant. After I insisted she asked me to give her a token amount which I did knowing very well that the money would not even cover the cost of two of the over a dozen books she had so generously given me.
I was keen to meet her again before she left for England but it did not happen. After seeing the appreciation written about her by a group of her friends, I understood that while she had made a lasting impression on me during our meeting which lasted only about an hour, she had also left an indelible mark on many others in her lifetime.
We encounter kindness in the most unusual ways in our daily lives and meeting her was one such moment which I’ll remember as long as I live.
The recent release of Dan Brown’s latest best seller Inferno created a renewed interest in the works of the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). Brown’s book draws continuous reference to Dante‘s masterpiece, Divine Comedy, to help the protagonist of his book to solve the riddle that could help to save nearly half the world’s population from annihilation. All very fanciful stuff and the book is more or less a typical Dan Brown kind of thriller but the author helps to enlighten the reader on the genius of the Italian Master and take the reader on a fascinating journey through the history of two great Italian cities – Florence and Venice.
It’s true by the time I reached the last few pages of Brown’s book, I was worn out by the over description of roads, bridges, buildings, museums, people etc. and just wanted it to end but I was eager to read up more on Dante about who I knew nothing more than the fact he was an Italian poet who wrote the epic Divine Comedy. Having turned the last page on Dan Brown’s Inferno, I opened up the page of a book I ve had for long on my book shelf which contained a fascinating article on Dante.
I also downloaded an electronic version of the Divine Comedy but reading it is no mean task given its length and complexity but the translation of it done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow can be downloaded free of charge. Interpretation of poetry is at most times a brain wrecking experience for me so while I decided to go-slow on the poem, I read up the more simplified description of Divine Comedy which I can share with all of you.
On Good Friday in the year 1300, Dante Alighieri, a citizen of the thriving Italian city-state of Florence found himself lost in a dark forest. Divine Comedy begins thus and describes the feelings of terror he encountered.
Inferno: Canto I
“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern?
Which in the very thought renews the fear.“
Fleeing from its terrors, he encounters the Ghost of his favorite author, the Latin poet Virgil. The poet told Dante that he could escape from the forest only by taking a road that led down into Hell and through it to Purgatory and then onto Paradise. With Virgil as his guide, Dante undertakes the journey and begins the terrible descent. Hell was a huge funnel-shaped pit with ledges circling its sides, on which the sinful suffered pains appropriate to their offences.
As the two climb down, Dante encounters some of his unimportant Florentine contemporaries as well as some well-known persons from history. The worst places in Hell are where he encounters Judas, the betrayer of Jesus and Brutus, the betrayer of Julius Caesar.
The two eventually leave Hell and come to the foot of Mount Purgatory which is in the exact opposite form of Hell, a peak rising up to the skies. Like Hell, the peak has a series of circles inhabited by those who have committed various classes of sin. Those guilty of sins such as pride were at the bottom of the mountain while those who were guilty of sins like lust were at the top. Unlike the lost souls of Hell, all the inhabitants of Purgatory were working, with the certainty of ultimate release from their sins.
When Dante emerges to the summit of Mount Purgatory, Virgil being a pagan is not allowed to pass into the next region. Here Virgil is replaced as guide by Beatrice, a woman Dante had known and loved in Florence and remained the symbol of perfection to him ever since. She married another man and had died young. Beatrice leads Dante into Paradise and in the celestial region; his journey becomes a weightless one. Finally he is admitted to the Empyrean of God and the saints and here he acquires a new guide St Bernard. He is then led before the Virgin Mary by whose intercession he is allowed to look into the light of the Trinity.
The Divine Comedy is essentially a Christian epic and is considered the greatest of Christian allegories ever written.
Link below to an article I wrote for the Sunday Times on “Inferno.”
Salman Rushdie’s book Midnight’s Children won him many literary awards including the Best of Booker, a one-off celebratory award to mark the 40th anniversary of the Booker Prize in 2010. But as he reveals in his memoir titled “Joseph Anton”, getting the book made into movie version was a long drawn out and frustrating struggle. Sri Lanka was picked as the location to shoot it , initially in the form of a television series and later as a movie, but with politics getting in the way, one project as shelved while the second one was concluded despite several hiccups on the way.
Here is a link to the story I wrote for the Sunday Times on how Midnight’s Children finally reached the big screen.