The French chatter of Ferrey’s ‘Demons’ | Sunday Observer

The French chatter of Ferrey’s ‘Demons’

27 May, 2018
Ashok Ferrey (left) at the publishers’ with Editor Marie-Pierre Bey
Ashok Ferrey (left) at the publishers’ with Editor Marie-Pierre Bey

Since the quirky and humorous characters of Colpetty People, Ashok Ferrey has come a long way. Quite undoubtedly one of Sri Lanka’s best known, much loved and widely read fiction writers in English, Ferrey’s works have been making some significant strides in the highly competitive international publishing industry. Published by Penguin India, his latest novel, The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons which was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize in 2015 (submitted as a manuscript) has now taken Ferrey’s career as a writer to a new level of international exposure.

The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons was picked by a renowned publisher in France, Mercure de France, to be translated to French, carrying the translation’s title as L’Incessant Bavardage des Demons. The first Sri Lankan novel, on record, to be translated to French was Martin Wickremasinghe’s Viragaya,which is considered the first Sinhala novel to be completely translated and published in the French language. Ferrey’s latest novel is thus the first novel from Sri Lanka to reach a French readership since Viragaya. And as far as one can imagine The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons is very likely the first Sri Lankan novel originally written in English, to be translated to French and published in France.

The acquisition of the French translation rights to Ferrey’s novel by one of France’s leading publishing houses shows a whole new step for modern Sri Lankan fiction. This novel is being published on a large commercial scale and is a milestone in Sri Lanka’s literary history. It is by all means an achievement to celebrate.

The official launch of L’Incessant Bavardage des Demons had taken place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris as part of Sri Lanka’s celebrations held in France by the Sri Lankan Embassy in France, on April 3 to mark Sri Lanka’s 70th year of independence. The event was hosted by the Sri Lankan Ambassador in France Buddhi Athauda, and the chief guest had been the French Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Jean-Marin Schuh. Attendees at the launch had included dignitaries such as, renowned British playwright, screenwriter and director Sir David Hare, French novelist Maylis de Kerangal, former British High commissioner to Sri Lanka and current British Ambassador to Turkey, Sir Dominick Chilcott, as well as many other esteemed persons based in France and beyond. Among the invitees were guests who had flown in from the US, the UK, Switzerland as well as Pakistan, which gives an idea of how wide an ‘international impression’ Ferrey’s novel has projected!

Keynote addresses had been made to the august assembly by the Sri Lankan Ambassador in France as well as the French Ambassador to Sri Lanka. M. Francis Cappe, Director of the Alliance Francaise de Kotte (in Colombo), and the Editor of L’Incessant Bavardage des Demons, Marie-Pierre Bey had also spoken at the event, while Ashok Ferrey had delivered a short welcome speech in French.

The proceedings of the launch included readings of the novel by the author and Ambassador Chilcott who had flown from Ankara, especially, for the event at the request of the author. A reading from the French translation was delivered by French writer Maylis de Kerangal whose participation was also on the invitation of Ferrey. The momentous event had drawn to a conclusion with a gala Sri Lankan dinner befitting the celebrative occasion.

I was curious to know what kind of experience the central persons involved in this project of putting out a French translation of Ferrey’s ‘Demons’, would have, to share with the readers of the Sunday Observer. At my request Ferrey connected me via email to the editor Marie-Pierre Bey and the publicist Romaric Vinet-Krammerer of Mercure de France, who shared the following remarks to express what it was like for them to have worked on this project of publishing as a French translation a Sri Lankan novel originally written in English.

The editor Marie-Pierre Bey states thus: “It all started with a very interesting letter from the head of the Alliance Française in Colombo: would we like to read the recently published The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons, by the best-known novelist in Sri-Lanka, Ashok Ferrey?

Of course we were! The minute a copy arrived, I started to read it, adored the music of the language, laughed a lot – but of course, not only, as the story it tells is not funny at all at times. We quickly decided it would fit perfectly in our list and started negotiations – very easy – with the author. No particular problems with the translation – except checking careful historical facts and geographical points. Botanical too. It seems that it is the first Sri-Lankan novel to be published in French in the past 60 years – so the Sri-Lankan embassy in Paris made a big event of it. Ashok Ferrey came to Paris, everybody loved him – so it is a happy story, demons included.”

The publicist Romaric Vinet-Krammerer had the following to say: “A great, long-time friend of mine is of Sri-Lankan origin, so I immediately felt an intuitive sympathy for Ashok Ferrey’s novel, even before reading it. But once I discovered The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons’s rhythm and the immense charm of its characters, I knew that taking care of its launching would be a real pleasure and an honour. Since then, the enthusiasm of the Alliance Française and Sri-Lankan Embassy in Paris, as well as the warm reception the novel has received, has confirmed our hopes and turned the publication of this French translation into a real event.”

Fiction lovers in France are now getting a novel experience of reading in French a highly popular Sri Lankan novel, thanks to the progressive measures of the Director of the Alliance Française de Kotte and those who took an interest in supporting ‘Ferrey’s Demons’ to begin chattering in French! This is indeed a development which must be applauded and saluted. The celebration of this significant literary development is still continuing its stride as I have come to know.

The 19th of June has been set as the date for the ‘Colombo launch’ of L’Incessant Bavardage des Demons, an event to be hosted by the French Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Jean-Marin Schuh, which one can surely say stands significantly in Franco-Lankan relations and furthers the cause of the arts and letters of two cultures that have grand literary traditions spanning centuries.