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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 921

Mirror of a changing nation

Reviewed by Aditha Dissanayake

An Anthology of Sri Lankan English Literature : Edited by Prof. D.C.R.A Goonetilleke

Fawn Anderson is the leading character in Anandatissa de Alwis’s short story “Star Sapphire”. Having lived with Fawn Anderson for two days now I feel I know her better than I know most of my friends who have been around me throughout my life.

She smiled when I told her of the meeting between Aunty Carolina and Prema at the hotel because she was not there to see it herself. "Prema waited. You didn't speak when Aunt Carolina was present. You waited. That was an established tradition. "So", said Aunt Carolina. It was only one word. It came through lips that hardly parted to let it through, but it said everything. It was a question. It was a comment. It was also a judgment." I agreed with Fawn whole heartedly when she said Sri Lankans can "smile from their hearts, cry like children at funerals, hustle up a meal for a friend at any hour of the day or night, fall on their faces in worship before a tree. They had all the innocence of paradise." I could not, however, agree with her about her views on women; "Most women were rich in dignity and poor in love. They grew grey and grubby and old and caressed the memories of their might-have-beens", or of what she said about men "any man can make love but only a few can make it memorable".

I would have liked to continue talking to her, but alas, now that I have started to write about her, she has disappeared; returned to her rightful abode within the pages of Anandatissa de Alwis'short story - "Star Sapphire" in Kaleidoscope; an Anthology of Sri Lankan English Literature, edited by Professor D.C.R.A Goonetilleke.

What distinguishes Kaleidoscope from other poetry and prose anthologies (apart from the manner in which most of its characters and events come alive on the pages) is the fact that when it comes to English literature in Sri Lanka, this is the first anthology of its kind, covering all the genres, fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction. The vast and diverse mix of new and established writers, from Carl Muller and Yasmine Gooneratne to Destry Muller and Nihal de Silva, is the result of Professor D.C.R.A Goonetilleke's attempt at mirroring the changing patterns of our nation through its English literature. Thus, one of the most striking features of the anthology is the manner in which the prose the poetry and the drama reflect "the vivid images of both urban and rural milieus, the South and the North, nationalism, class and race conflict in the post-colonial society, insurgencies, the tsunami and terrorism".

The transportation from place to place (both physically and emotionally) takes the reader on a journey of discovery that includes a visit to Godfrey Gunatilleke's "Garden", where a serpent literally and metaphorically enters the protagonist's paradise and Priyanthi Wickramasuriya's An Old Fashioned Bookshop, Vijita Fernando's deeply moving "The Homecoming" and Sunethra Rajakarunanayake's "The Third Party Guest" depicting perhaps for the first time in Sri Lankan English literature "casual love" in a "bold, vigorous, totally unconventional and earthy" manner, followed by the extract from Suvimalee Karunaratna's The Vine". Meanwhile, the fluidity of the poems is enchanting; the way it moves from the simple, beautiful "Boat Song" of Patrick Fernando to
Lakshmi de Silva's deep-felt remembrances of Tangalla, 9th April 1971, to the witticisms of Regi Siriwardena to Lakdasa Wickramasinha's Don't Talk to me about Matisse to H.L.D Mahindapala's "Landscape" - "In the mountains the weeping rains come so often/Beating down with a ramshackle rattle."etc.

Each piece of writing attempts to capture how Sri Lankans "thought and wrote from Colonial times to today", and as we read on, we begin to understand that all the poems and prose as well as the two dramas ( H.C.N de Lanerolle's Fifty-Fifty and Ernest MacIntyre's The Loneliness of the Short-Distance Runner) form a kaleidoscope of life in the past and the present.

The different structures provide important gaps -often allowing the reader time to contemplate what has been read as the balance of the excerpts from the two novels and the short, pithy stories like Kamani Jayasekera's "Outsiders", and the diverse content and style reflect the scope of English literature in Sri Lanka. As the book shifts among different poetry prose and drama styles, from the Tennysonian lines of W.S Senior "For high in my highland valleys/And low in my lowland plains/The ride of the past is pulsing/Hot, in a people's veins" to the intricate, utterances of MacIntyre's Perera "Circulation of 100,000. Can you see they are making fools of hundreds of thousands of people. Don't talk, don't read and the chances are you won't go insane" we move with the written words - both optically and textually. But we also bring with us what we have just read and felt in a previous story or poem so that the work in question gets deepened in meaning.

An active anthology, Kaleidoscope has made me come in close contact with writers I have hitherto known only by name, and as I reach the last few pages where there are brief descriptions of each writer, and close the book, I take with me their varied voices and give them room to resonate - and elaborate within my mind.

D.C.R.A Goonetilleke, Emeritus Professor of English, is the leading anthologist of Sri Lankan literature who has edited seven anthologies such as Sri Lankan English Literature and the Sri Lankan People (1917-2003), Modern Sri Lankan Stories, Sri Lankan Literature in English 1948-1998 etc. In his new Anthology; Kaleidoscope he includes not only material selected from books but also from journals and newspapers as well. Having thrown light on material which has hitherto been almost unknown to readers interested in Sri Lankan literature in English through this anthology, Professor Goonetilleke emphasizes the importance of creating an anthology at regular intervals to harvest new work that enters the literary arena.

Published by Vijita Yapa Publications

Availabe on-line at www.vijithayapa.com Paperback US$ 4.95

- Asian Tribune -

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