A beautifully written and emotionally resonant novel | Sunday Observer

A beautifully written and emotionally resonant novel

23 July, 2023

Title: Tale of “Two Cousins”

Author: Dr. Namel Weeramuni

In his debut novel, “Two Cousins”, Namel Weeramuni dives into the meaning of family, societal expectations, unfulfilled dreams to emerge with a tale that is vivid, authentic and filled with the unexpected. Bringing the skills of a dramatist onto the pages of this captivating novel, he explores the intricate dynamics of two families set against the backdrop of mid 20th century Ceylon.

The main protagonists are Noel and Senera who are cousins with intimate bonds. As the narrative unfolds, we witness their lives taking different paths. Noel’s father sends Noel to England to qualify as an accountant and expectes him to return to establish himself locally and take over family responsibilities. Meanwhile, his cousin, Senera, remains behind to pursue his studies at the University of Peradeniya.

Although the story is set in the 1950s, Noel and Wimal’s passage to England resonates with the plight of many young people who are currently leaving the country to study abroad. Some among them will studiously complete their studies and return home to occupy high positions in the government, academia, medical, legal, and other professions. Others remaine behind and settle down in various professions after completing their academic work. In contrast, still others give up their studies and seek alternative sources of income for a living. Noel falls into the latter category.

However, unexpected events at home force Noel to return home, leaving his family behind in the UK. A family never revealed to his relatives back home for fear of its disapproval for not meeting the accepted societal norms. The sudden demise of his father leaves him with the responsibility of caring for his mother and younger siblings.With the aim of returning to England as soon as possible Noel turns to Senera for help, secure in the knowledge Seneral will not abandon him in his hour of need.

The author skillfully develops the characters of Noel and Senera, allowing the reader to form deep connections with both protagonists. Senera’s relentless pursuit of his aspirations to make his own career resonates with anyone who has chased their dreams, while Noel’s steadfast commitment to family evokes a sense of loyalty and responsibility. The contrasting motivations of the cousins create interesting reading throughout the narrative. The author masterfully explores the complexities of their relationship, highlighting their differences in a way that never feels forced or contrived.

The occasional bursts of humour further enlivens the story. When Samantha wonders if Senera is over enthusiastic about the beautiful girls in his batch at the university of Peradeniya, Noel’s reaction echoes the reaction of all brothers towards their future brothers-in-law, “ I will kill the bugger if he does.”

Namel’s writing style is both evocative and lyrical, transporting readers effortlessly into the heart of the story. The description of the Galle Road as dusk gathered on an evening in 1950 with “the light from the lamposts seemingly fighting with the gathering darkness” the two young men walking on the seaside pavement in Wellawatte evoke images that will linger in the reader’s mind.

Similalry, the vivid descriptions of the Peradeniya campus and its student body in the narrative take the reader to a vibrant setting. Walking past the Sangamitta Hall, Senera tells Noel, “It’s for girls and out of bounds,” to which Noel retorts, “The whole area seems to be under lock and key. These beautiful damsels have to be tightly guarded I suppose.” The author’s attention to detail enhances the overall reading experience, painting a vivid picture of the cousins’ lives. The interactions and relationships between the two main characters ensure there is never a dull moment in the story.

The plot unfolds at a steady pace, skilfully balancing moments of contemplation with pivotal events. While the story delves into the personal lives of the cousins, it also tackles broader themes such as societal values, family obligations, and the complexities of mixed marriages. Namel handles these themes offering profound insights into the society that prevailed in the two decades following independence.

Those who know the author may wonder whether the tale is not interwoven with his own in some ways. One of the strengths of “Cousins” is the author’s ability to create interesting supporting characters, each serving a purpose in enriching the story. Tale of “Two Cousins” is a beautifully written and emotionally resonant novel. Namel crafts a compelling narrative of the relationship between Noel and Senera, drawing readers into their lives and making a story so well-written and so engaging it is a book you can’t put down. Namel Weeramuni is a consummate storyteller, and this is Namel at his finest!

- Reviewed by Nandi Jasentuliyana, Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations.