Thursday, August 14, 2008

Of Talking Books, Sach and Ashok Ferrey

I read a hell of a lot. And it may not surprise you.

I'm quite the voracious reader. From drumming magazines to gadget magazines to novels to self help books, I devour them with the appetite of one of you lot at Hikka fest at about 6.12 AM.

I also don't really have any taste in literature. No one who knows me would describe me as a discerning reader, I just grab whatever takes my fancy and try it. Of course books on Sri Lanka, whether they're factual or of the novelistical variety, exist on my bookshelves in abundance. I buy them, read them, digest them and learn from them.

The pile on my bookshelf, if pile is the collective term for some books, which it probably isn't, sits there and calls me at various times.

"Oooh Rhythmic, come and read me" screams a book sometimes

"Mr Diaspora, please take me to bed with you and fondle my pages" begs another book, of the female type, occasionally.

"Oi, I wouldn't bother with me if I were you. I'm boring and not worth reading until you're really desperate" said the big one whose voice I totally ignored the other day.

They all talk to me in different ways at different times.

Some weeks ago I bought, on a whim, a book written by an English guy. A dangerous move you may say. You're right, say I. But I felt in a risk taking mood, I felt like living dangerously and was in a devil may care mood. Only that morning I had driven to Kingston at about thirty five mph in a thirty mph zone. I even drove through an amber light (nearly).

It sat on my shelf for a while and then I ignored the warnings, picked it up and read it. I never got into it, never got taken in and swallowed up by it in the way so many good books can do. But I got interested in the storyline. What a bummer. I felt nothing for the characters. It was set in the 1950s in London and was all about the situation with African immigrants at the time. Hardly one of my areas of interest but I had thought that the London bit would suffice.

I fought my way through the book, just wanting to get to the end to see what happened to the characters and also not caring in the slightest. Somewhat disappointingly they all lived happily ever after too. If the author had said that at the beginning I could have saved so much time and effort. If I ever write a book I'll make the first page also the last page, a kind of palindrome of a book. Now that would be smart, like a rotavator.

The experience left me feeling bitter and somewhat cheated. I knew that my next choice of book needed to be made with due diligence and I had many candidates from which to choose.

I perused my bookshelf. The first candidate was Jools Holland's autobiography, given to me by K for Christmas. No, I thought almost instantly, it can wait. I've heard that it's a great read, that it's well written and full of funny anecdotes and he's one of my favourite musicians who also used to be in one of my all time favourite bands, Squeeze, but it didn't grab me.

Then I looked at a crime novel and rejected that too. Then I looked at the Sri Lankan books. First up was Tissa Devendra's On Horseshoe Street. No, I started it some months ago and struggled, it wasn't right to come back to it just then.

The next book shortlisted for the RD which one shall I read now prize was one by Paul Harris. It's called "Delighfully Imperfect - A Year In Sri Lanka At The Galle Face Hotel" and, though not the punchiest and most concise of titles, it pretty much does what it says on the tin. It's that book with the picture of the old fellow who's now retired I believe on the front of it. The chap with the moustache.

It looks like it will be highly interesting read, but it didn't appeal to me for the moment either. This one took some pondering and deliberating before I came to my decision. I picked it up, glanced at some random pages and paragraphs and stared at words and sentences before it got dismissed with a bit too much care and attention. If it were a woman, one of those ones who wanted to go out with me, I would have said

"Look, I like you. You seem like you'll be very funny and interesting. I think we can have some good times together, I'll even take you to bed if you're lucky. But now's not the time. I can't figure out why but I feel it. It might be to do with your moustache but I reckon I'll feel differently very soon."

Then again, I'm not that good with women. Or moustaches.

Next in the queue was Ashok Ferrey's Good Little Ceylonese Girl. I didn't know much about Mr Ferrey. I'd seen him in every page of Hi!! Magazine looking quite the muscular sort, at the opening of everything, but I hadn't read Colpetty People nor anything else by him. I checked out the book. I sampled sentences, I read the blurb and I felt something. There was an intrinsic Sri Lankan feel to it. From the photograph on the cover, which I later discovered was taken by one Dominic Sansoni, a chap I've never heard of, to the snippets I read.

Then, as I glanced at the inner sleeve, something caught my eye. It was the dealbreaker, or maybe dealmaker. I can't remember the exact words but it went something like

"This book takes you...
blah blah brilliant blah
blah read it now..."

Sachini Perera - LT Times (I think)

That was the tipping point. It was only our Sach, the cynical one, quoted on the inner sleeve of a book. Honestly, if she thinks it's good then I figured I'd like it. It was a sign, the book wasn't just calling me, it was screaming to me in urgent tones and begging me to read it. I had no choice. Well, I did have a choice but I chose that one.

I began to read and within about five minutes Ashok Ferrey became my new superhero. I laughed out loud at two little lines in the first story alone. I was drawn in to the world of each story, from Brixton to Negombo I was there. Rarely have I read a book that has been so vivid in its detail and so alive in its language.

Mr Ferrey wrote of Barbara Sansoni sarongs and I thought

"cool, I own several hundred of them."

He jotted about two people meeting at the Sunday Jazz at Barefoot. I read it and felt it. To think I've had the good fortune of playing murdering a song or two there is one of those nice big warming thoughts. Each story is illustrated by, well, by illustrations, that are done by the author. They're very lovely line drawings and add to the Sri Lankanness and general flavour of the book.

I don't want to sound too fawning and too nice about Mr Ferrey and his book, but it's caught my imagination in ways that books rarely do. As I read each page and each story I find myself relating to the way he uses words and wit. If I could be ten per cent as funny as him I'd be quite a happy chap. Lines like

"It was a case of infidelity waiting to happen"

just make me chuckle like a pirate. Not that pirates read Sri Lankan fiction of course, though Sri Lankan pirates might, if they could read.

I haven't finished it yet but I can tell you with authority that his writing on Brixton is as brilliant and evocative as his writing on Colombo. It's evident that this is a series of stories written by someone who has seen many of the things first hand. I think I'll finish the book and may even read it again.

Or I might start the one with the moustache.

If you know Ashok Ferrey please tell him he's got a new fan. If you haven't read this book then do so. Trust me. You'll love it.


ddm said...

i first read ashok ferry bc of a superb interview he had done with a local magazine just after Colpetty people was released. there was a great piece of dialogue which convinced me that this chap must be good.

Q: how long did it take to write the book?
A: about an year (or something long)
Q: So long? i read it in a couple of hours
A: Yeah, I'm left handed.

and then i read the story about Jiggy and and felt happy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rhythmic, Ladies are asleep and I have a connection! Yes I want to read the books you pointed out. So far only a few books related Asia and SL I have read apart from historic epics like Mahayana and Ramayana.(I had the pleasure of reading the Indic and Indonesian version of Ramayana.) I like Arundhati Rai and Michael Ondaatje's books to bring out the Asian salt in my blood. I have been an avid fan of Chinese and Japanese literature.(I can manage a little Japanese reading)But I am a sucker for historical and science fiction novels(I like A.C.Clarke's type of SF books ! I love Neal Stephenson and he is in both the worlds. If you want to read how Sir Newton put fingers in his eyes for the lack of lenses,and how Leibniz, and Robert Hooke lived and drank mercury! and Shafptoe, a London street urchin became Half-Cocked Jack, King of the Vagabonds, read the Baroque Cycle, trilogy. I actually took time off to finish each of the three books. They are unbelievably well written. Be forewarned they are big books. Wow, this comment too long! l8r

janusis said...

Yup, I have read his book too.. Its fun to read a book that talks about places you know or that you see daily..

gutterflower said...

I really liked 'Colpetty people', but 'The Good Little Ceylonese Girl' was such a let down after that.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Scrump - Maybe then I've done it the right way round.

DDM - I think that's the thing, his writing makes me smile and happy.

KS - Thanks, Japanese literature is something I haven't sampled yet. Maybe next.

sach said...

wow I had no idea :) must get a copy of the new print then

DeeCee said...

I luved colpetty people too! Good little..was a little more darker. but nice! Hope u got ur hands on the ginirella conspiracy and road to elephant pass. good shit.

gutterflower said...

I knew I'd been absent for a while but I didn't realize that my name had already been forgotten.


Just kidding.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Gutterflower - So sorry, I just looked and realised my mistake. How may I make up to you?