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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Yesterday is another country

Yesterday is another country, by Somasiri Devendra. Sri Lanka: Sridevi Publications, 27 Pepiliyana Road, Nedimala, Dehiwala. First published 2008. ISBN 978-955-9419-28-0

This charming collection of 16 short stories, part reminiscence, part intriguing mixture of history and myth, is written by a man better known for his works of maritime archaeology. Gentle and reflective in tone, the anthology reveals the heart and mind of a citizen of an island--Sri Lanka, once known as Ceylon--which most of us think of as beautiful, exotic, and almost unreachably remote.

There are tales of youthful misadventures at a local university; stories, part comic, part tragic, of being made the guardian of a schizophrenic patient (one of which, most appropriately, is called "The cross on my shoulder"); and a truly wonderful account of a scholarly conference at the edge of a remote desert in the northwest of India, which turned into a voyage of discovery into the intricacies of the Krishna legend.

Of the collection, the last two stories are probably the most revealing. In "The myth maker" the scenery of Sri Lanka, only briefly referred to before, bursts onto the reader in a torrent of jungle growth, tropical warmth, shafts of light and riotous scents. The last story, "Inhuman rites," gives a horrifying glimpse of the current terrorism that mars this Indian Ocean paradise.

A short, but ultimately satisfying read. Thoroughly recommended -- if you can find it. Try writing to the publisher.

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