James Michener’s Fires of Spring, my travel companion - Aditha Dissanayake | Sunday Observer

James Michener’s Fires of Spring, my travel companion - Aditha Dissanayake

26 July, 2020

Aditha Dissanayake is a prominent writer, freelance journalist and a bookworm. Today she joins the Youth Observer to share her views on the book she likes best and her reading habit. 

 Aditha is the daughter of well‐known writer Daya Dissanayake and school teacher Indrani Pathirana. She has published several novels and critical works in English and continues to write on literature to the Daily News.  

Excerpts from the interview:  

Q: Which book has moved you the most up to now?

A: There are many books that have had a lasting effect on my life, from Martin Wickremasinghe’s Viragaya, to John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath to Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, but the book that has been with me for so many years, the one book that I take with me when I travel, the book that has been my companion in so many countries around the world, is James Michener’s Fires of Spring. 

 In good times and bad, in joy and sorrow, seeking a friend among the pages, I turn to this book, because I know I can find a paragraph or a chapter in the book that will be in perfect sinc with the feelings I am going through at some particular phase of my life.  

Fires of Spring is Michener’s second novel. He wrote it in 1949, before all his epic novels such as Hawaii and Alaska and Chesapeake came into being.  

Q: Why did it move you so much?  

A: It’s a coming-of-age novel, in the sense that it follows the story of a guy called David Harper from his childhood in the poor house in Dolyestown, Pennsylvania to his early adulthood. The story revolves around the episodes and the people who are a part of David’s life at a particular point on his path to becoming an adult. I love the story’s frankness and also the fact that David reflects my own attitudes to life. Like David I find next to people, books are the most important things in the world.  

Q: Is there any kind of connection or relationship between the protagonist’s life and yours?  

A: Oh, there are many similarities. You see, David wants to become a writer from a very young age and that has been my dream too ever since I started to read.  

But the biggest connection between my life and David’s took place when I got to live in the same city that David lived in, as an adult, New York. I got the chance to sit on a bench in Washington Square the same way David did and like him, I used to dream of the books I would one day publish like David, I saw Washington Square in winter and in summer and in some ways I felt I connected with David’s spirits many years later in New York.  

Q: How did you find the book?  

A: As with most other books I have read, it was given to me by my father. He already had most of Michener’s books on his bookshelf, books that he had bought when he was young but this book was not among them.

One day, when he saw me reading Hawaii he told me I should read Fires of Spring too and he promised me he will find it for me. He found the book at one of the ‘Gamini Hall’ bookshops and bought it for me. The copy I have with me has belonged to someone else and I often wonder what he or she thought of the book.  

Q: In what ways has this book helped you?  

A: Fires of Spring helped me a lot when I majored in English at the University of Kelaniya. This was because there was a chapter in David’s life when David was in College that I found was similar to my own experiences at Kelaniya. The texts I studied such as Chaucer and Hawthorne were texts that David studied too and on the day previous to the day I had to answer a paper on Chaucer, I read how David went to answer probably similar questions on Chaucer and did well, and I felt like David and thought I can do this too. True enough I got an A for my answers.  

As I mentioned earlier, David’s wish to become a writer resonates with my own dreams and has helped me to move on when I experienced rejections of my manuscripts, because David’s first attempts to write a novel too were rejected.  

Q: How did you find books to read in your early days and how is it today? How do you see the readership today?  

A: I grew up in Galle and every Saturday my father used to take my brother and I to the Galle Public Library.

That’s where I discovered English books such as the Famous Five series. My father and mother bought a lot of books for us too. They always celebrated our birthdays or our achievements by gifting us a book.  

And above all as both my parents are avid readers I grew up in a house filled with books. Even to this day our house doesn’t have a lot of ornaments or expensive furniture or even a TV, but we have books, thousands of them. Everyone says the habit of reading has decreased. Has it, really? I don’t think so. I know lots of young people who read a lot, perhaps not hard copies but on their phones.  

Q: As a fiction writer, do you limit yourself to read fiction only? Or do you read other books?  

A: I prefer to read fiction, but I do read other books too, especially books on history and biographies.  

Q: Do you read, when you are writing a novel?  

A: Well... It takes about three years for me to write a novel and yes, during that time I do read books written by other writers. I never stop reading because I’m writing.  

Q: Which do you find more entertaining, reading or writing?  

A: Um... I don’t know... Reading is almost like breathing to me... I read to gather new experiences and to learn things... I write to convey my own experiences and things that I care about or feel deeply about, to others. For instance, my heart breaks every time I see someone cutting down a tree because in my eyes a tree is a living, breathing being. So the theme of my new novel is about saving trees, because trees equal life on earth.