Expand the horizons of Sinhala Literature | Sunday Observer

Expand the horizons of Sinhala Literature

10 November, 2019

In the past few decades, some of the authentic English writers such as, Michael Ondaatje, Shyam Selvadurai, Nayomi Munaweera, Shehan Karunatilaka and a few others have produced some gems of books in English that have earned global praise and given a dimension to Sri Lankan English literature.

Contrary to this, although English to Sinhala translations are quite a common practise in the Sri Lankan literary scene, we seldom see Sinhala to English translations.

Sometimes, translating one language into another could be much more complicated than writing an original story because it is a process of transmitting intentions, feelings and implicit messages while respecting the subtleties, idiosyncrasies and the inherent beauty of the original language.

It is a process of digging into the author’s thought process and his/her experiences at the time of writing the original piece of work. It is being both, a psychologist and a writer at the same time.

Recently, Mohan Raj Madawala’s best-selling Sinhala novels ‘Dear Victoria’, and ‘Loveena’ have been translated into English by Somasiri Munasinghe, a veteran Journalist who currently resides in Canada.

Madawala’s first ever short story collection, ‘Bodilima’ which baptised him as a writer was also translated into English as, ‘A Magician’s Tales’ by Maheshi Weerakoon, a former lecturer at the University of Peradeniya.

The book launch was held yesterday (9) at Missaga Hall in Toronto, Canada, where the chief guests were, Prof Swarna Chandrasekara, Chandrarathna Bandara and Shamel Jayakody .

Mohan Raj Madawala is a renowned writer and media persona and one of the most successful, best-selling authors out of a very few in Sinhala literature. Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Mohan explained that his intention to translate his novels into English was to expand the boundaries in Sinhala literature which limits its readership only to Sinhalese.

“However, it is not an easy task to get the attention of English readers for an English translation, because those who have English language literacy are always keen on reading authentic English writings.

Therefore, it is not easy to grab the attention of the English readership by merely translating Sinhala novels into English,” Madawala said.

To convert his best-selling novels into other languages is a dream that Madawala has nurtured for a long period. However, that dream had to be buried in his thoughts for quite some time until he got the first hint from Chandrarathna Bandara, about Somasiri Munasinghe who had a craze over Madawala’s writing with a genuine interest to translate them into English.

“Somasiri Munasinghe is both, a Sinhala and English language expert living in Canada and I have been introduced to him by Chandrarathna Bandara. In our first Skype call I asked Somasiri why he wants to translate my work into English.

His answer was simple. He said he saw the international appeal in my method of storytelling. Hence, we agreed to continue the project and I’m quite satisfied with his work,” Mohan explained.

Considering the genre of Madawala’s literature, some literary critics have said it is highly influence by the concept of magical realism; contrarily, some others say the experiment with magical realism in his novels is without understanding the exact meaning of the genre.

The concept of magical realism was introduced to literature by the German Literary Critic, Frank Rove who was influenced by Latin American writers initially, and popularized the concept through them across the world.

Speaking about his genre in writing Madawala said he always wanted to tell his story in an extraordinary manner and didn’t want his novels to be realistic. “I like to exaggerate real life out of its proportion and present it in a way to make my readers surprised. As we agree, it is a fact that the reality of life is quite boring and tiresome.

Whether we like it or not we have to adhere to certain socio-political realities. Magical realism gives you the opportunity to be completely unconnected from socio-political realities and place your story in a new dimension of reality.

Therefore, I embraced the concept of magical realism to tell my stories where I acquired the total freedom to tell the ordinary story of life in an exaggerated and out of proportion way. For me art is larger than life, “ Madawala explained.

Madawala says it was quite a hectic process that they had to go through in the process of translation.

However, he is extremely delighted about the outcome and stressed the key role of the editor in the process of writing as well as translating which is rare in Sinhala literature.

Although Madawala is a best-seller novelist in the Sinhala literary sphere, it was a failed mission for him to find an international publisher to translate his work and publish in the international market.

So he says it is a myth to believe Sinhala literature has its recognition in the world because Sinhala literature is catering to a very limited audience.

Although some Sinhala books have been translated into English or another language, those books too have not been able to reach out to a larger audience.

“This is actually an experiment that I do by translating my novels into English and according to my knowledge there’s only a limited chance to reach out to an international readership without publishing through an international publisher. I tried many ways to get my novels published through an international publisher, but the response is negative.

The international market is not even aware about our literature. Therefore, I decided to self publish the translated novels, and my ultimate desire is to expand the readership of my literature,” Madawala added.