OK, so I didn’t really go into the controversies and boycotts that plague the Galle Literary Festival each year after my rant last year. However, to me it seems that literary festivals always come with boycotts for the publicity they generate, and in a country recovering from war, it’s effect is even more devastating and emotional. I really doubt whether the government is even taking notice of the literary festival which isn’t state-funded considering it has so many other pressing matters to deal with such as the rehabilitation of its people and land as well as the floods that have plagued the north east of Sri Lanka these past few months. But GLF’s founder Geoffrey Dobbs’ heartfelt speech at the end of the festival touched a chord. It may be a small contribution and the festival may have seen its share of rich socialites from Colombo who aren’t interested in literature, yet it has brought much-needed income to the areas surrounding Galle, the shops, restaurants and tuk tuk drivers as well as people from around the world who care about what is happening in the world and have an opinion and who also happen to love literature.

I say literary festivals should generate discussion. So, here’s a round-up of some interesting articles that came my way:

My friend Fëanor who blogs at Jost A Mon sent me this article expressing disappointment that the GLF features literature only in English and not in Sinhala or Tamil.

Jack Point who blogs at Court Jester left a comment on my post about why the boycott is wrong.

Malinda Seneviratne is a Sri Lankan journalist whose newspaper article my father sent my way.

And finally one of my favourite writers, V.V. Ganeshananthan, author of Love Marriage, has written a piercing piece about what it means to participate in literary festivals, especially the GLF. Hear, hear!

So, how was it? I can almost hear you all cry. There were a few cancellations (Damon Galgut’s boycott was for Reporters Without Borders but both Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai couldn’t make it for visa reasons – apparently you can’t re-enter India or something like that although the Indian Embassy in Sri Lanka did their best to cooperate so I’m not sure what all that was about. Apparently there’s no official boycott story here according to Festival Curator Shyam Selvadurai although gossip was rife in the Sri Lankan papers) but frankly it didn’t bother me or anyone else at all once the festival started because this year’s Galle Literary Festival was the best one so far. Being the 5th anniversary, the organisers really did everyone proud in creating a wonderful programme. They even started charging for the festival programme which is a good thing as all the money will be going back into the year-round community projects they are running.

Last year I went to the GLF sans my parents (but with some family friends) because our dog Puccini was poorly. This year they came with me because sadly Puccini’s no longer with us. Of course, I went to as many literary sessions as I could but my mother spent the 4 days walking around Galle Fort sketching and my father went on a little trip to Hambantota to check the progress of the new highway, airport and cricket stadium. Go figure.

There were lots of interesting authors to choose from but this year the highlights for me were Tash Aw, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Lawrence Hill. I’d booked to see Tash Aw talk about his debut novel The Harmony Silk Factory which I adored especially since I hadn’t known anything about the importance of communism in Malaysia at the tail-end of British rule and just before WWII, and I was also intrigued by his treatment of one of his characters who is a member of the feared Japanese kempeitai (military police). It’s a wonderful book and Aw is an unassuming and very charming person and kindly signed his latest book Map of the Invisible World for me. I also attended one of his creative writing workshops which really made us all think carefully about how we craft stories and left us feeling very inspired.

Adichie’s eloquent and confident style belies her youth and it was a real pleasure to hear her talk. I had seen a tv programme about her a few years ago and her earnestness was catching. She spoke about the Biafran war and her book Half of a Yellow Sun which depicts the Biafran flag and the struggle for an independent state. One of the most interesting things she talked about was the inheritance of collective trauma and how even though her generation did not experience the Biafran war, there is still a collective and very real sadness about what had gone before. I, and I’m sure everyone else in the audience, was also pretty impressed with how she stood up for activist Sunila Abeysekara during a BBC Forum panel discussing the lingering effects of civil war when she was accosted by an angry journalist whose tirade turned personal.

I hadn’t initially planned on going to Lawrence Hill’s session as it clashed with Orhan Pamuk’s. But I’m so glad I did because Hill is a brilliant speaker and I quickly ran out to get The Book of Negroes to read. I had read several positive reviews of this novel and remember being intrigued by it. I found his tale of his parents’ marriage and subsequent flight to Canada from the States to start a new life free of racial prejudice very touching. But Hill was very matter of fact about it and as he says in his book Black Berry Sweet Juice on growing up mixed race in Canada, he interviewed over 30 people who were just like him. Intriguing stuff. Unfortunately I had to leave The Book of Negroes in Sri Lanka because my father started reading it and seemed reluctant to give it back saying it is extremely well written. So I’ll save that for when I visit home next:)

This year the organisers of the GLF decided to focus on Malaysia and Malaysian literature. I wasn’t too sure about this at first, but it really was a brilliant idea. The Malaysian authors who attended were all charming, extremely bright (I think there was one young professor and two lawyers!) and incredibly funny. What I really liked was how they were all able to laugh at themselves and the world while tackling rather complex issues. How wonderful. I particularly liked Tan Twan Eng (author of The Gift of Rain)’s comment that he was tired of self-important stories about aging writers with writer’s block who just go on and on about themselves. I guess there are only so many books like that you can stomach. And Shamini Flint who writes the Inspector Singh mysteries was hilarious and didn’t stop making jokes even when she was discussing why she wrote crime novels to tackle the more serious side of humanity (something she’s always been interested in as a lawyer.)

I also attended a free session on The Other Malaysia by Prof. Farish A. Noor, a young and energetic historian who is trying to change the nature of discourse, especially with regard to history which is often politicised in Malaysia. It was extremely refreshing to see so much excitement in a subject such as history and how it is relevant to young Malaysians in establishing and understanding the racial, and hence political, diversity in their culture today.

It wasn’t all about books though as there were several BBC Forum sessions which discussed the aftermath of the internal conflict and rehabilitation which I, and many others, found emotional and which also provoked some heated comments. But then that’s what literary festivals should be about, right?

And finally I dragged my father to see Mohsin Hamid who spoke about his novels (Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist) and being Pakistani with a Western education and how to reconcile the two (he’s another lawyer) and June Chang and her husband John Halliday who spoke about Mao. Now that was one hell of a session, packed to the brim and also the final session of the festival. I haven’t read Chang’s books (both Wild Swans and Mao: The Unknown Story) although my friends who have read them said they were amazing and affected them deeply. Chang is an incredibly magnetic person and when you hear her speak, you don’t doubt what a strong woman of conviction she is.

The only session that I left half-way through was the Sri Lankan writers’ session which was about Sri Lankan literature in English which dealt with the internal conflict. I was really interested in hearing what Ayathurai Santhan had to say as he had written The Whirlwind, a novel about the Indian Peace Keeping Force that had come to Jaffna to essentially help the civilian Tamil population in Sri Lanka but ended up imprisoning and treating them as suspects when they failed to root out the Tigers. It’s not a story that many have written about although everyone’s heard of similar stories so I wanted to know more. A serious author who has written 19 books in both Tamil and English, it was a mistake to put him together with two authors who were more interested in talking about themselves and their writing habits than about what was important when a writer sits down to leave behind a record of what happened even if it’s in fiction form. I was so irritated by the self-indulgent chatter in which Santhan was unable to participate that I just had to leave, even though this was one session I was really looking forward to. However, the excerpts they read from their work were really good so I hope that I can forget about this unfortunate episode and actually want to read their books. But this was a very small blip in what was a perfect literary festival.

I also want to mention two authors of Sri Lankan origin who have piqued my interest: British Roshi Fernando, author of Homesick a novel about Sri Lankans in London (who unfortunately couldn’t make it due to her daughter catching swine flu) and Canadian Randy Boyagoda, author of the forthcoming novel The Beggar’s Feast about his Sri Lankan relative, faux village life and murder. I’ll be sure to check out their work.

There were some other high profile authors such as Louis de Bernière, Candace Bushnell and Sarah Dunant whose sessions were apparently amazing but I couldn’t go to all of them. Anyway, I’m looking forward to attending again next year! Naturally there were a lot of articles in the press praising and bashing the GLF which seems to go hand-in-hand with such a high profile event but I noticed that there were a lot of journalists enjoying the festival.

On a side note, what was really amazing about the trip this year was the number of tourists in Sri Lanka. I don’t remember seeing so many tourists in hotels and walking along Galle Road for the past twenty-odd years and it put a big smile on all our faces. Apparently all the hotels were fully booked. Good thing they are building two new 7 star hotels in Colombo overlooking Galle Face Green. Although my mind boggles at the idea of a 7 star hotel…

You know me and Sri Lankan lit, I like to get my mitts on everything that’s around. I came across Vicky Had One Eye Open by Darryl Samaraweera by chance in my local library because the surname just screamed Sri Lankan. I had never heard of the author or this book so I was intrigued.

I imagined it to be similar in vein to most other diasporic literature. However, it surprised me. The first few chapters left me feeling slightly bored. It was slow, there was no dialogue, it was all tell and no show. But the writing was good. You could see it was polished and very clever. Maybe a little too clever. But sometimes that just isn’t enough. I was half in mind to put the book down unfinished because although it seemed as though we were going to find out about Vicky’s past, Samaraweera surprised me and didn’t do the expected. I persisted because I was feeling guilty about returning it unfinished to the library and I’m glad I did. Because although nothing much happened, there was something about Samaraweera’s style that went against the grain of most diasporic literature and I rather liked him for it.

Vicky’s life is ebbing away. As she is taken to the hospital, her family and friends gather around her hospital bed, fussing, worrying and trying to do the right thing. We meet her husband, three children, two sisters and their families. We never find out their names. Samaraweera just calls them Vicky’s husband, Vicky’s eldest, Vicky’s sister, etc. In some ways that prevents you from connecting with the characters which I thought was a shame as it stopped me caring about them. He does give names to all the other people in her life: her friends, colleagues, her sons’ girlfriends. As she slips into a coma, we find out about her past, her life in Sri Lanka as a privileged child, her move to the UK where she meets her husband, their shared life in London. There is only one chapter towards the end where the family returns to Colombo for a holiday in 1983 which brought a little tropical colour to the tale. But hardly anything about the internal conflict that blighted Sri Lanka for 26 years.

Samaraweera’s book is a book about London, not Sri Lanka. Vicky’s children have no connections with her home country. They’re British through and through and they aren’t interested in their roots. They go to the pub, have relationships with non-Sri Lankans and struggle with their identities as Londoners. There’s no external suffering in this tale, only internal. It’s a snapshot of the modern displaced family who have successfully set roots in another country. Whether they are happy is besides the point. They all suffer from the malaise that permeates any city life, especially a city as big as London.

I finished the book not caring so much about Vicky or her family. But I did feel that Samaraweera has written a book that may change the course of diasporic writing where you can finally move away from writing the nostalgic novel of a home country that one yearns to return to but finds there is no longer a place for you. But a little dialogue and pacing would have lifted this novel and injected some life into it. Compared to Nikesh Shukla’s Coconut Unlimited which I finished the day before, it had a more dream-like, contemplative quality.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh here but I wished Samaraweera had let loose a little more. It felt as though he was on the brink of telling the tale but holding back. There was also too much referencing of cultural fads so popular in creative writing workshops which didn’t add much to the story (but not as much as Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado which I’m currently reading!)

BUT Vicky Had One Eye Open is beautifully written and lingers in the mind long after you’ve put it down. And I would really like to see where Samaraweera goes next in his literary career.

I read this as part of the South Asian Challenge 2011.

Although I’d put my name down to read 5 books for the South Asian Author Challenge hosted by Swapna of S. Krishna’s Books, I had secretly been hoping to read much more. Looking back, I see that my reading’s been concentrated around my trip home to Sri Lanka early in the year and then petered out. Oh well, that just leaves me more for next year:)

So what did I read this year?

Mosquito by Roma Tearne – loved this. I have 3 more books by Tearne which I’m looking forward to reading.
The Road from Elephant Pass by Nihal de Silva – my favourite book of the challenge.
Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai – a re-read which again impressed upon me what a fine writer Selvadurai is. I’m eagerly awaiting his next book.
Serendipity by Ashok Ferrey – this novel didn’t really work for me however I’m a huge fan of his short stories so looking forward to reading more by Ferrey.
The Moon in the Water by Ameena Hussein – dark and melancholic and definitely looking forward to reading more by Hussein.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri – my introduction to Lahiri. I love her easy style.

Which makes 6 books in total, most concentrating on Sri Lanka. Can’t be helped as I like discovering my roots!

This is a great challenge in which to participate if you have an interest in South Asia and its literature. Swapna’s built up a wonderful directory of literature by South Asian authors and set in South Asia, so do check her blog. And the sign-up for the 2011 challenge has already begun. So, are you going to join us this year?

Here’s to exploring more South Asian authors and literature in 2011!

is a short story by one of my favourite writers which you can read here. V.V. Ganeshananthan is the author of Love Marriage, a debut novel that was beautifully written and had such depth and understanding of what was happening in Sri Lanka during the ethnic conflict. This is another short piece that will stun you with its power. I like the way that she writes her pieces without drowning you in sentimentality. It’s short, sharp and brutal.

The Moon in the Water by Ameena Hussein is another book I read during my holiday in Sri Lanka. I’ve been waiting to read her book since I first saw her at the Galle Literary Festival 2009 a year ago. What interested me about Hussein’s work is that she brings her ethnicity and religion into a literary tradition (by which I mean Sri Lankan literature in English) that is overwhelmingly Sinhala/Tamil/Burgher and Buddhist/Hindu/Christian, and I, like so many others, was ready to start reading about the experiences of a Muslim Sri Lankan.

In The Moon in the Water we meet Khadeeja who finds herself on a precipice, looking back at a past that has suddenly shifted and towards a future that no longer seems simple and certain. The eldest child in a wealthy Muslim family in Colombo, she has returned home to mourn and attend her father’s funeral, leaving behind her boyfriend in Europe where she has been working for many years. As her family deals with the aftermath of her father’s violent death, a secret is unveiled which causes Khadeeja to break down and leave home. She goes to stay in a remote part of Sri Lanka and meets Arjuna, a young Sinhalese man married to an European lady, whose impact on her life will change its course forever.

Hussein writes beautifully; her style measured and polished. This is an unconventional story, part bildungsroman and part love story, and I loved the way that she slowly unveils Khadeeja’s past together with her growing vulnerability and shaken belief. Khadeeja, who was so sure of herself and her place in society, slowly fragments and transforms into another being as she goes on her journey to find out what she and her family really mean to one another. The book’s unexpected ending left me heart-broken, but Hussein tackles the difficult issues of ethnicity, family, love and loss in a sympathetic and thoughtful way without becoming kitsch.

I now can’t wait to read her two earlier collections of short stories Fifteen and Zillij; something to look forward to when I next go to Sri Lanka. The Moon in the Water was longlisted for the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize.

An interview with Ameena Hussein can be found here and an article here.

I read this as part of the South Asian Author Challenge.

I wasn’t really sure about writing this review. I really enjoyed Ferrey’s two previous volumes of short stories, Colpetty People and The Good Little Ceylonese Girl, with their witty observations of people from the countries in which Ferrey lived before returning to Sri Lanka 20 years ago. And of course the infamous Colombo crowd. Ferrey’s prose is engaging, clever and colourful with frequent use of the local lingo.

Ferrey describes his first novel Serendipity as a collection of loosely connected short stories. We meet various characters from Piyumi, the lawyer from London who returns to Sri Lanka after failing in her career and love, Marek, the Polish builder who leaves his mother, and his father’s house which is being sold off in pieces, for a new job as a teacher in Colombo, to Debs the gay NGO worker. And we can’t forget the politicians scrambling to the top of the dung heap of Sri Lankan politics (including a character named Fonseka whom Ferrey vehemently denies was deliberate – and what a serendipitous coincidence since the Sri Lankan elections were just announced when the book was published.)

There are several plot points from a suspicious insurgent group plotting attacks from a London newsagents, a tuk-tuk driver trying to make his way out of his slummy existance and the fate of Serendipity, Piyumi’s ancestral home, which her relatives who all live abroad want to sell off.

The book is well written and Ferrey has a certain way with words that is very slick. Maybe even a little too clever, but that’s never a bad thing. It’s just that I didn’t really respond to Piyumi. I couldn’t understand her choices and I couldn’t sympathise with all the awful things that happened to her. However I did like Marek and his heartbreaking naiveté. Maybe some of the characters were too outlandish for me, I’m not sure. And the ending wasn’t one that I expected (which isn’t a bad thing either, but it wasn’t what I was looking for) and left me wanting more.

At the GLF 2010, Ferrey did a reading of Seredipity with some of his friends and it was a colourful experience which brought his novel alive.

Sometimes a book just doesn’t resonate with what you are looking for, and this one didn’t as much as his short stories. But I’m certainly looking forward to his next one.

I read this as part of the South Asian Author Challenge.

As you might all know, I’m a big fan of Shyam Selvadurai who was present at the 2010 Galle Literary Festival. You could say that I went to the GLF this year mainly to see him and Michelle de Kretser. And what a lovely man he is.

I read both Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens many years ago, and felt they both deserved a re-read in preparation for Selvadurai’s talks. Funny Boy I re-read a few years back, so I opted to re-read Cinnamon Gardens this holiday and took it with me to Galle. And as before, it was a sublime read. Selvadurai’s prose is polished, yet gentle, and slowly seduces you into caring for his struggling characters.

In Cinnamon Gardens, we meet Annalukshmi Kandiah a young progressive woman intent on qualifying as a teacher in a society where a woman’s expectations end with a suitable marriage. However, Annalukshmi is not one to cave in to familial duty and strives to carve out a career amidst opposition and a reluctant interest in the idea of love even though it is not something in which she feels she should be interested. Not far from them, her uncle Balendran is trying hard to be a dutiful son to his tightly controlling father the Mudaliyar Navaratnam. Married to a beautiful and caring wife and with a son who has gone abroad to university, Balendran is unable to forget his lover Richard whom he left behind in London 20 years ago. Set in Cinnamon Gardens, the affluent area in Colombo inhabited mainly by wealthy Burgher and Tamil families, it is the end of the 1920s in pre-Independance Ceylon and times are changing. In Selvadurai’s novel we catch a glimpse of the Cinnamon Gardens set in a long vanished world.

As both Annalukshmi and Balendran navigate through their struggles with their families who try to bind them to their rules, we hope that they will eventually find the freedom which they so long for. In addition to the two protagonists’ tale, we also see the effect of rebellion against the Mudaliyar Navaratnam’s iron rule. His eldest son, Balendran’s brother, is thrown out of his house following his elopement with a maid and is living in poverty in India. To utter his name is forbidden in the house. When news arrives of his illness, Balendran goes to India to bring back his brother’s ashes as instructed by his father. How Balendran deals with his father’s control extending even after his brother’s death, and the subsequent revelations which unfold following his return to Ceylon will change Balendran’s view of his father, and his life, forever.

This is a subtle book about the shifting values and obligations within a family and Selvaduri shows how nothing is ever as it first appears.

I’m submitting this book for both the Flashback Challenge and the South Asian Author Challenge.

Zeylanica by Asiff Hussein

24 February, 2010

Zeylanica by Asiff Hussain is a non-fiction book about the diverse population of Sri Lanka focusing on their linguistic history. I like to read up on Sri Lankan history and culture every time I visit, partly because I don’t speak the language and feel that I’m missing something vital. I’ve also had my interest piqued by our biannual home leave and holidays since childhood driving around the country and being regaled with tales from my father (who you can probably tell loves, loves, loves his country.)

Although I was aware of the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and Burghers (Dutch and Portuguese) who populated the island as well as the Chinese and Malays who remained in the country and married into the population, there were several groups of people I knew nothing about, such as the Kaffirs (descendants of African slaves brought over by the Portuguese, Dutch and British), the Rodiyas (similar to the Untouchables of India), Nittavos (primitive Pygmy-like people) and Nagas (a coastal snake worshipping people). We were going through our books and doing a cull this holiday and what do I find on my father’s bookshelf? M.D. Raghavan’s anthropological study of the Rodiyas , Handsome Beggars: The Rodiyas of Ceylon in 1951. Nice coincidence.

And of course there are the dwindling Veddas (the original indigenous people of the island) and the legendary and mythical Yakkhas and Rakshasas of Ramayana fame. Who can forget the image of King Ravana who kidnapped Princess Sita away from her Prince Rama? This sparked an epic battle to save the Princess from the demon King of Lanka and Rama does just that with the help of his brother Lakshman and his trusted friend, the Monkey God Hanuman who crossed over from India to Lanka in one leap.

Yakkhas also feature in the Mahavamsa which tells of the birth of Sri Lanka with the arrival of Prince Vijaya from India, expelled from his kingdom with 700 followers, who arrives on the island. He is smitten by Kuveni, a Yakkha who has transformed into a beautiful woman. She has fallen in love with the handsome prince and has pledged to hand over her people and make Vijaya lord of her land. The two are married and she bears him twins. But when Vijaya decides to formally become King of Lanka, he sends for an Indian bride and turns Kuveni out. And she in turn is savagely torn apart for betraying her people. You can read a brilliant fictional account in Colin de Silva’s epic The Founts of Sinhala.

I was initially drawn to Zeylanica by its cover with its many photos of the different people that make up the population of Sri Lanka, but the content was both interesting, albeit a little dry as it is predominantly an academic treatise (with copious footnotes, such as you would expect.) But there are several interesting chapters, especially those pertaining to the mythological beginnings of the island, the historical route through which the people and language have traveled from Vedic India, the evolution of Sinhalese from Sanskrit and Pali and the linguistic connections with other Indo-European languages such as Latin, Greek and English.

Although it’s not a quick read, it was very interesting and informative and I certainly learnt a lot about the groups of people that make up and give Sri Lanka such diversity.

Ugh, when I read articles like this which was posted on the Literary Saloon, it makes me spit at the mouth and grow horns on my head. So I’m going to rant and get it out of my system.

Frankly, all literary festivals are indulgent. You need to make time to go there, pay money to listen to authors and maybe even have to buy some books and spend even more time queuing to get them signed. But you know what, like all the arts, we need it. It’s one of the many things that make life worth living. It’s food for the soul. I’ve only recently started to go to literary festivals and haven’t even made it to the big ones in the UK such as Hay, Cheltenham or Oxford, but I’ve had the good luck to have parents living in Sri Lanka and my annual holiday home is in January because I can’t take Christmas off. So imagine my delight when I found out about the Galle Literary Festival.

It’s still in its infancy (4 years), and I’ve only been twice, but each year, there is more topical diversity, larger audiences and, most importantly, the organisers have made sure that there is more given back to the community. There are year-long programmes benefiting the children of Galle, and during the festival there are opportunities for them to interact with the visiting authors. And all provided gratis. I think the organisers have done a tremendous job amid very harsh criticism. Especially from people who have come and enjoyed the festivals themselves. Like at any festival, you’ll get your it-crowd who are only there to be seen and photographed, but the majority of people there love books. Otherwise why would you sit through hours and hours of people talking about things in which you have no interest? I certainly wouldn’t.

And going back to the article above, I love Ian Rankin and his books featuring John Rebus. They gave me the first taste of Scottish noir and I raced through them all when I was supposed to be writing my thesis. And Rankin is a brilliant writer. But I wouldn’t say that he’s the only A-list writer at the festival this year. I mean both Michelle de Kretser and Mohammed Hanif were short-listed for the Booker Prize. I don’t really have to say much about writer and biographer Claire Tomalin (who has won 4 major prizes including the Whitbread Book Award and was also shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize) and novelist and playwright Michael Frayn (who has won 5 major prizes including the Whitbread and was also short-listed for the Booker Prize) who are giants in the English literary world. And Wendy Cope? She’s one of the best poets writing in English that we have (and she has won 2 major awards and was short-listed for the Whitbread Poetry Award). And let’s not forget Shyam Selvadurai who also has 2 awards to his name and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. I’m exhausted listing all these awards and I haven’t even named them all.

I suppose in this case, A-list means best-seller and not critical. I’m not panning Rankin, because I think he is an intelligent, sophisticated and literary writer (whatever that means and I don’t really want to go into the whole literary/genre controversy here), but I guess for some people, books that don’t exist on bestseller lists aren’t really A-list. But I doubt that’s how book lovers would rate authors. In fact, I didn’t go and see Ian Rankin talk because his session clashed with that of another up and coming author. A literary festival is somewhere where you go and learn about new authors as much as the established ones.

Frankly, calling these authors C and D-list, then writing an article that doesn’t even discuss the literary events apart from a few (and there were many extremely interesting events suited to all tastes) and concentrating your article on all the non-literary events (which I agree were brilliant and only enhanced the literary festival) just shows that maybe some people do only read nursery rhymes (and Ian Rankin). Obviously that hasn’t stopped them coming to the GLF every year and enjoying themselves. In fact, maybe they want to put people off to ensure tickets for next year’s festival.

During the GLF this year, Sunila Galappatti, the director of the festival invited one of GLF’s vocal critics on stage so that they could discuss what bothered him about the GLF in public. After almost an hour of arguing and getting nowhere, she asked him why he was here. And his reply? Because he liked coming to the festival. If you like it so much, why are your pissing on it?

I don’t think there can ever be a perfect festival. And in a highly literate country like Sri Lanka (over 90%), having a festival in English excludes a large percentage of people seriously interested in literature but who may not be so fluent in the language. And even if you do understand English, the festival is still closed to you. I understand the frustration. The price of tickets and rooms are just too high for local Sri Lankans and yes, if possible, something should be done to even it out. And this year, the organisers have provided a lot more free events, both literary and musical.

But the GLF is an international literary festival celebrating literature in English. Instead of going on and on about how insulting this festival is to Sri Lanka and its people (hello, the GLF is generating a lot of tourism and revenue for the country), why don’t these unhappy people organise a literary festival in Sinhala and Tamil? You won’t even have to invite these ‘imported’ authors. And you can get rid of all the expats and foreigners. Perfect.

But that doesn’t really solve anything, does it? The GLF doesn’t have to be the sole literary festival in Sri Lanka. What it’s done is opened the template to what a literary festival can achieve. And it’s modelled itself on the literary festivals that are so popular and successful abroad. And if Sri Lankans can take that and make something that can be enjoyed by everyone, then surely, that must be a good thing.

This GLF bashing seems to be a perrenial pastime for many journalists and attendees. And part of the reason is the language politics that still dominates Sri Lankan politics today. David Blacker, a Sri Lankan author, discusses this more eloquently here.

Anyway, enough with the ranting. I had a great time at the Galle Literary Festival this year. And I chose to go because I wanted to meet some of my favourite authors whose words have enriched my life and given me an insight into the world. And maybe I’ll never get the chance to meet them again, but to me, it was totally worth it. And yes, that includes spending my hard-earned cash.

*I have not been paid to advertise or promote the GLF.