Sunday, October 26, 2008

Book Review: Reasons for Reading-The Giniralla Conspiracy by Nihal de Silva

Reasons for Reading

By Tamarra Kaida

Writers have long complained about the loneliness of writing. “All you have is a blank page and your brain”. Conversely, readers can evade loneliness, boredom, by reading what a writer has written.

Reading a book is an intimate act. Surprisingly, it can be done in the most public of places. Train stations, cramped airplane seats, and doctors’ waiting rooms encourage reading more than libraries, which tend to make one sleepy. The best public reading is in cafes where lattes and cappuccinos add to the pleasure. It can also be done in the privacy of your own bed or even someone else’s bed. Husbands and boyfriends don’t mind if you slip into your “good book” and journey into another realm while your body lies by their side. A friend told me about the time the love scene she was reading was so much better then her own sexual experience that she got up and left the boyfriend, but took his book. It was a tattered copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

It takes more time to read a book then it does to look at a painting or listen to most music. Even movies, which engage both our sight and sound senses, are limited to about two hours. Books can keep you involved for weeks, even months. It took my husband and I four months to read War and Peace aloud. It was quality time and a shared pleasure.

Fiction never lies.

There is something about reading a novel that requests the reader to suspend judgment of the author in ways one doesn’t do with essays or theoretical writing.

Fiction is about characters and plot and a good tale. But there is something else… and that is the author’s voice. It is not difficult to sense what kind of human being is writing the story one is reading. Recently, I read The Giniralla Conspiracy, by Nihal de Silva, a Sri Lankan writer who won the Gratian Prize in 2003 for his first book, The Road From Elephant Pass. De Silva was scheduled to speak at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in October, but tragically he won’t be attending, he was killed when his bus ran over a land mine in northern Sri Lanka.

Sometimes, books are better company then people.

I was in the middle of The Giniralla Conspiracy when I received the bad news via email.
The book was about revolutionaries who recruit young idealistic college students into their radical political organization, which aims to change the corrupt establishment. Sujatha Mallika, a brave village girl with a traumatic childhood is attracted to the radicals’ worthy cause but deplores the violent methods used by the party to control their own members. Sujatha discovers a secret plan that promises to destroy the government and kill many innocent people. She and her friends work at preventing the forthcoming catastrophe. The love stories interweave with the plot in a graceful and realistic manner. It is a tale about the complexity of revolutionary actions and raises the issue of weather malevolent means justify noble aims.

What struck me about The Giniralla Conspiracy is how different his heroine and his hero were from Western contemporary counterparts. Mithra, the hero, is a victim of childhood polio who is gentle, sweet and the target of much abuse during initiation rag at Jaypura University. He endures the sadistic bullying inflicted on him by the older students without bitterness or rancor. He is not especially hip or cool but he possesses emotional savy and depth of spirit. He is a very likable and memorable character. There were no big gun fights, no hot sex scenes. Instead the reader was given believable characters in a thriller plot set in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Even de Silva’s bad guy surprised this reader with his moral integrity. The best part of the reading experience was de Silva’s voice holding his fictional world together with a gentle humanity that exceeds the actual plot. I was looking forward to meeting him at the Festival to see if he actually was all that I sensed him to be on the page.

Paradoxically, the terrorism and violence he deplored and wrote about killed him. Land mines are deadly planted bulbs, which burst into bloom indiscriminately.

His books remain. His voice lives on.