Book Look | Sunday Observer

Book Look

20 January, 2019

“The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds, ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.

Clarence S.Day (1874-1935)
American Author

Please allow me the concession of a brief, initial personal reflection. I crave this indulgence, specifically because of the direct relevance it has, to what I intend to talk about in this piece of writing. In the course of my deep self-searching on New Year’s eve, to decide a fitting, seasonal resolution, a strong concern stirred within me.

In sustained hindsight, I made the intriguing discovery, that, from my early childhood on, books had been crucially present in my life. Alluring colour-pictures, that adorned huge tomes, fascinated me, as satisfying kiddy toys.

These books, that, my eldest brother had studied, included a work titled “Highroads of Literature”. Though I could not read the texts, their colour-pictures nourished my incipient soul, as aesthetic pabulum.

I was surprised no end, to find, that, with each passing year, my keen regard, my deep attachment and my warm affection for books, had burgeoned in leaps and bounds. Over many decades, I have been reading books (and, avidly too) and talking books in print media, electronic media and at personal and public meetings. In addition I have been patronizing formal book-launches-at most of which, I would invariably be assigned a speaking role. To put it modestly, my reviewing and assessing of books, have been astonishingly extensive – to say the least.

But, in the midst of the season of Good Cheer, I was jolted (mildly though) into something of a shock. Suddenly, I became aware, with a wee touch of guilt, that I have not treated my life-long friends – the books – too well. My conscience stepped in, to whisper in my ear, what could be discerned as the subdued accusation, that, I have not been comprehensive enough, in my patronage of my unwavering companions – the printed works.

On taking thought, I realized that, this was largely true.

There was room for delving deep into the birth of books. I should have been more sensitive to the ordeals, a writer would have gone through, to achieve this result. Why did I not dwell more acutely on the creative efforts and verbal refinements of the author? Did I neglect the men behind the finished products? These hesitations assailed my inner being. Instantly, I hit upon the New Year Resolution. I will be kinder and gentler to the book and to those personalities behind it. I will make amends and go far beyond routine review formats.

Led by this radical metamorphosis, I took a look at the array (largely the disarray – to be exact) of books around me. Some are right in front of me, as I read and write. Many are on their back. Others are huddled in confused stacks, each book supporting the other, like a series of drunken duos, that manage precariously to remain upright, helped by one another. Outage Lexicons, rest one upon the other – the heftiest providing the sturdy base.

Then there are the pathetically tattered and endlessly dog-eared tomes, that painfully bear witness to the suffering inflicted on them, by their perfectionist masters, assiduously looking for the right wood and the faultless usage.

The books in my possession, have begun to spill all over. Some, end up on the bare floor, as the last resort available to them. Some slink into my bed, finding accommodation at its edge forming a paper - wall restricting my movements.

Books deserve a far deeper appreciation than what could be provided by routine reviews. Their content has to be studied in-depth. Both the matter and the manner deserve attention. In the new concept of book assessing, it is essential to lay special emphasis on the author and other individuals associated with the book. (These individuals are different from the characters in a given book).

The assessment of Sinhala works, in English, is a primary national need of our time, since it can promote and ensure inter-communal understanding, leading to friendly co-existence.

To reflect the new approach to the assessment of literary works, I have coined the neologism “Book-Look” (No copyright is claimed, please).

To begin with, I thought I will apply this new perspective - “Book Look–to the works of top eminent Authors. Both these Authors are extensively profuse in book production and literary creativity.

The two authors of my selection, for this assessment are MS. Kanthi Gunatilake and Dr. Nimal Sedera. In terms of book production, both are equally formidable. Let us, in the first instance, take up the works of the lady writer – Kanthi Gunatilake. (Please note: there is not even the slightest trace of gender discrimination here. It is all, strictly alphabetical).

You can start by describing writer Kanthi Gunatilake as a housewife. And, primarily, that is just what she is.

Todate, she has written and published more than 50 works. If you even merely counted the number of her literary creations, you would certainly come away from that experience, murmuring to yourself “miraculous, miraculous”. And, miraculous indeed is her literary achievement.

Just, take for instance, her latest publication. It is titled “Yali Pipunu Mala” (The flower that blossomed afresh).

It bears an additional title, that reads “Sukushima Kandu Atare” (Amidst the Sukushima Hills). It is an absorbing, irresistibly compelling, 304-page long, work of distinguished fiction. It exudes the authentic aroma of the ritualistic lifestyle of the Japanese people.

Those who are well informed about the subtle and highly sensitive nuances of Japanese culture, assure us that, her portraits of Japanese style of life throb with the genuine spirit of the Japanese ritual of daily existence. Fiction-writer Kanthi Gunatilake, admirably displays her intimate empathy with the refined rites, that dominate the Japanese way of life at each and every moment.

The soul-shaking story-line of her present work, has as its core element the tragic outcome of the encounter between the two extremes of today’s Japanese life-the rural and the ultra-urban. The principal character in this novel, leads a delightful life, amidst the lavish gifts of nature, in the bosom of a fertile valley. Her soul is serene. Age-old rural ways enrich her total being. Born and bred, in this calm and gentle environment, this lady Minako, possesses a subdued tranquil soul.

An unexpected meeting with a city – dwelling stranger, on the Festival Day Nikono Sekku, shatters her total life. This urban character from Tokyo, reduces her to the uneasy position of having to exist with a troubling secret, throughout life.

Around this narrative core, writer Kanthi Gunatilake, creatively constructs a monumental work of fiction, overflowing with a profound humane feeling.

Anyone going through this novel, will undoubtedly be surprised by the sheer creative effort, the work represents. The detail is so engrossing. The narrative technique keeps the reader, keenly absorbed. Above all, the story-line is emotionally powered.

An average writer would be happy if this was his or her only work.

But, this is just one of the plethora of works emanating from her pen.

The exotic ‘Japanese’ atmosphere she evokes, is exceptionally entertaining.

Her works, are even physically impressive. Her cover-art represents an area of Japanese life, making the reader admire the effect such an illustration generates.

She does not confine herself to adult fiction alone. Her stories for children, have a subtle appeal for young ones.

Her work titled “Punchi Sinawa” (The Tiny Smile) fascinates the young ones. Over and above entertaining them, the story, is didactic, as it focuses on the affection of a child for an aged, helpless elder, who is compelled to exist miserably at the edge of society-as it were.

A detailed scrutiny of her variegated works, undoubtedly demands nothing but an encyclopaedic space.

Objectively viewed, we have in this writer, a creative personality Japan too would be proud of. Even a mere display of her works on Japanese themes, would prove a distinguished tribute to the great Japanese culture. While on this matter, there is a highly relevant observation. According to history, the first-ever work of fiction in history was written by the Japanese Court Lady Murasaki Shikibu (978-1031). She compiled the saga ‘Genji Monogatari’ (Genji story).

Strangely enough, in our day, a Sri Lankan Lady writer, produces the largest number of works of fiction on Japanese themes. I am quite certain, that even a lady writer of that great and noble country would not have achieved such a distinction.

For Sri Lanka, writer Kanthi Gunatilake’s fiction-creation triumph is a victory, that should be nationally celebrated.

Writer Kanthi Gunatilake, occasionally hosts people at her home in Nittambuwa. To launch her latest books, one of those meetings was held. She presented a repast, that reflected rare rural culinary items.

This brings me to yet another impressive revolution. I asked her once, out of sheer curiosity, where she writes all these glorious works. Her response: “In my kitchen”.

(Ladies, raising eye-brows in surprise is/quite in order)

In her kitchen!

We will now turn to Dr. Nimal Sedera – another creative wizard, in the field of authorship.

His newest and exceptionally surprising work, has been created, largely during his diasporic days, in various parts of the world.

His massive creativity, ramifies into a multiplicity of disciplines and a whole range of differing fields. His latest contribution is titled “Nihanda Basa”, (Body Language). The additional title sets down the purpose. “A guideline to success”.

As a writer and communicator, with not inconsiderable experience, I must unambiguously state, that this is the first-ever occasion, a study has been made on “Body Language”.

Dr. Nimal Sedera’s reputation is solidly built on the vast range of subject-areas, he explores in his unceasing creative efforts.

The current work, “Body Language”, is, in effect, an extension of his continuous pre-occupation with the production of works on marketing and associated domains.

Dr. Nimal Sedera, came into national prominence, as a youth Leader. At the time, he could not help but monopolize the limelight as an exemplary young person, who deserved the sobrique “A man for All Seasons”.

He has made an indelible mark, in the region of Insurance, both as a man of theory and pragmatic commitment.

In this introductory “Book Look” piece, I will only outline some of his specialities, merely as road signs, in his restless progress, seeking new “kingdoms” of knowledge to conquer.

Read the subject-areas to which he had contributed works and be surprised, very surprised. Fiction (short and long), youth literature, children’s books, biographies, marketing, religious works, travel books, poetry international folk tales, research pursuits and miscellaneous.

A story that is quite popular even in our day, has to do with the Great Bertrand Russel. If a person asks, what Great Russels philosophy was, the right response is “In what year”.

Equally if you ask what Dr. Nimal Sedera is occupied with, the right response, is “When and Where”.

He is always on the move, physically and equally intellectually. In Book Look, this is just an introduction to him.