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Sri Lankan Literature: Contexts and Criticism

Minoli Salgado

Edited by Kusuma Karunaratne , Kulathilaka Kumarasinghe, Sarath Wijesooriya and Tennyson Perera
Godage International Publishers, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2003, pp. 220, LKR 700.00, $17.00

By A.V. Suraweera
Godage International Publishers, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2003, pp. 296, LKR 750.00, $15.00


While Sri Lankan literary and cultural studies have achieved international recognition, publications in the field are still sharply divided into two categories: those aimed for a local or regional readership and those aimed for an international one. This division is largely the result of discrepancies in the dissemination of knowledge, access to and agreement on a common theoretical and cultural discourse, publication practice, and the unevenness of the expectations of the target readership. Thus while publications aimed at a local or regional audience tend to limit their accommodation to a new audience, those aimed for an international readership seek to contextualize their subject and accommodate current theoretical debates and trends. Excellent examples of the latter are Neloufer De Mel’s Women and the Nation’s Narrative: Gender and Nationalism in Twentieth Century Sri Lanka (Kali in association with The Book Review Literary Trust, 2001) and the collection of essays edited by Neluka Silva, The Hybrid Nation: Culture Crossings and the Invention of Identity in Sri Lanka (Zed, 2002) which collectively serve to reveal and problematize the literary and cultural construction of the nation within the context of contested identities. Both are seminal texts that significantly expand the field of Sri Lankan cultural studies.      Selected Sri Lankan Short Stories and A. V. Suraweera’s Essays on Sri Lankan Literature and Culture fall into the first category. This is evident in the fact that both texts read ‘Sri Lankan’ as synonymous with Sinhalese culture and identity – a critical manoeuvre common to local publications but one that is inevitably problematic for an international readership that demands a more self-conscious critical reflection on the cultural construction and contestation of national identity. It is also evident in the insecure grasp of the English idiom, numerous typographical errors (which renders the second story in the short story collection almost incomprehensible) and narrow critical range.      It would however be premature to dismiss these texts on the basis of such deficiencies. For the very problems of articulation and vision reveal a lot about the current state of the Sri Lankan publishing industry and the unenviable position of writers, academics and critics who are working under constrained conditions in which professional copy editors and proof-readers are rare. Getting good translators too is difficult, in particular translators working from Tamil to English, and this inevitably limits the cultural vision and range available. The editors of Selected Sri Lankan Short Stories are clearly ...

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