Th set of short stories set in Sri Lanka is so vivd it feels like a trip into the culture, complete with all of its tensions.
Occasionally a reader chances on a real discovery. A few rupees to spare in Colombo International Airport in Sri Lanka prompted the purchase of a few books by local authors. Travel, if undertaken with interest in the world rather than the self, has cultural immersion and experience as a requirement. Foods, art, history, religions, cultures and music are all on the list, but literature and writing must also figure. What a reader would not predict from a cover that featured bananas and little else would be the fact that this set of short stories would prove to be nothing less than a revelation sufficient to deserve the description of “masterpiece”.
The Banana Tree Crisis by Insankya Kodithuwakku is the book in question. It features seven short stories running to a total of around fifty thousand words, so is short enough for the traveller to consume before the west-bound aircraft out of Colombo even reaches Doha. But do not think that this implies something slight. On the contrary, the subject matter of these stories gets right to the heart of the social structure of Sri Lanka, its political and religious conflicts, its war, its highly unequal society, even its often fractious relationship with Britain, its former colonial master.
These stories address many issues and illustrate many arguments, but do not think for a moment that they are in any way didactic or heavy. The reality is quite the opposite, in that the writing style is sophisticatedly simple and transparent, the plots deceptively straightforward in their ability to convey complication with superb empathy. There is the Hindu-Buddhist-Muslim triangle, the Sinhalese-Tamil war, relations between the sexes and the generations, devastation by a Tsunami, the effects, intended and otherwise, of foreign aid, and even cricket. Anyone who has visited Sri Lanka will marvel at the brilliance with which these contexts are woven deftly into the tales of ordinary folk. A reader who has never been to this beautiful, troubled, welcoming and often frenetic island might even feel that these stories were the same as a visit, so vivid are the descriptions and so apparently real the scenarios. We even have a government minister being pushed though a crowd by the driver of his four-wheel SUV. Anyone who has visited Sri Lanka will recognise the requirement to get off the road. The reason, by the way, why minsters’ convoys behave so boorishly in traffic, is that they assume that bombs are never far away.
If this set of stories, The Banana Tree Crisis by Insankya Kodithuwakku, contained only The House in Jaffna, it would still be worth buying, just for those twenty pages. In just a few thousand words, Insankya Kodithuwakku addresses inter-generational and cross-cultural differences, captialism’s empty consumerism that sees personality as merely the sum of consumption, the nature of nostalgia, the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict, the fate of Jaffna and, overall, the appreciation of life being a process of change. It is nothing less than a masterpiece of the genre.
And Insankya Kodithuwakku’s writing style is always beautifully transparent, always engaging and regularly surprising throughout this set of stories. Insankya Kodithuwakku certainly displays a great talent. If you know Sri Lanka, you will adore these stories. If you have never been, then they will take you there for an authentic, enlightening and thoroughly entertaining visit. Please do read The Banana Tree Crisis by Insankya Kodithuwakku.