Foam upon the Stream - A Japanese Elegy | Sunday Observer

Foam upon the Stream - A Japanese Elegy

18 April, 2021

Author – Ediriweera Sarachchandra

Publisher – Vijitha Yapa Publications

Foam upon the Stream is a novel by eminent playwright, poet, novelist, literary critic and social commentator Ediriweera Sarachchandra, first published in 1987. It is, in fact, a translation, a free translation, as the author mentions in his preface to the book, “more precisely, a re-written version of two short novels” by him, Malagiya Atto (1959) and its sequel Malavunge Avurudu Da (1965), originally written in Sinhala. The novel is a romantic love story, though ending in tragedy, between a Sri Lankan middle aged writer Dharmasena or Daruma San and a young Japanese woman, Noriko San.

Many views

There are five parts in the novel, and they present many views. The first part is related by Daruma San from a first person’s point of view while the second part is presented from the third person’s point of view. The third part is once again from the first person’s point of view, and the fourth part is written again from the third person’s point of view. The last part is related by Noriko San from the first person’s point of view. Daruma in the book is, in fact, a name made by Noriko from Dharmasena to conform to the Japanese – “Daruma is the name the Japanese gave to a doll that would always sit upright, no matter what you did to make it lie lengthwise.” (page 12)


Dharmasena or Daruma San who is a university lecturer and a writer, is awarded a scholarship to go to any part of the world he wishes during his sabbatical term and to finish a creative written work. Thus, he first goes to the United States with which he gets fed up, and then arrives in Japan. He is spell bound with Japan though the reason is inexplicable - he feels more at home there. He meets Noriko, an attractive young woman working in a bar in Tokyo as a waitress. Thereafter, both of them become lovers. But Daruma has many barriers to marry Noriko, the major one being that he is already a married man with a daughter – Sriya – in Sri Lanka (in the book it is Ceylon). However, he cannot forget Noriko. So he makes every effort to bring Noriko close to him. But Noriko’s elder brother Hideji and elder sister Momoko oppose Daruma’s action to take Noriko to Ceylon without getting divorced from his earlier marriage. Meanwhile, Daruma’s wife Ramya takes every possible step to get together with Daruma, though he dislikes it altogether. In the meantime, his daughter meets with an unexpected accident and his plan to bring Noriko to Ceylon is unsuccessful. Disappointed Daruma goes back to Tokyo and meets Noriko. Now, Noriko tries to marry him in Tokyo, though a man called Nakano San is urging her to marry him. Hideji, her brother and Momoko, her sister like this idea – first get married and go anywhere they like. Now everything is ready for the marriage. The two even take a house on rent and buy their wedding attire too. But at the moment they suddenly get into a quarrel due to a simple argument. The end result is that Noriko leaves the place, and Daruma takes an over dose of sleeping pills with the intention of committing suicide. Finally, the love between Noriko and Daruma ends with Daruma’s tragic death.

From delight to wisdom

One can say this is a moving and beautiful translation but the main characteristic of the book is that it delights the reader by giving wisdom to him. A reader is enlightened by the emotionality of the narrative. He can easily enter into the fictional world of the novel, and become aware of the complications of their love affair because of the sensuality in it. In fact, the whole story has to be read not with the brain, but with the heart. There is a heartbeat tone in it like ‘Lub…. Dub…. Lub…. Dub….’ that one can hear when one reads the book:

“The next day I woke up earlier than usual. My head was splitting and I felt my heart go ‘thud’, ‘thud’. I got up, dressed, and went out to a drug store where I bought myself some brovarine pills. I swallowed a couple of pills and crept under the blankets once more. I tried to sleep, but the sound of my heart-beat kept me awake. I lay with my eyes closed until I felt the beats becoming softer and slower and finally dying down”.

“It was about ten when I woke. I poured myself a cup of tea and lay down once more on the mattress and began reading. When Noriko came at about eleven, I was still like that. I got up and opened the door for her. Her face fell when she saw me. I went straight into the bathroom and washed myself. Without a word she rolled up my mattress, pushed it into the wall cupboard, and began tidying up.

I sat by the table on the tatami floor and went on reading. She boiled water and made tea, and brought the pot and two cups to the table.”

(Pages 45 - 46)

One can grasp the actual tone and rhythm of the narrative from these words.

Inner tone

Of course, if one goes to read the book with his brain, he does misjudge the novel. But why did the author make use of this kind of tone and rhythm in the novel. In fact, this is a love story, but it’s a writer’s love story. Every great writer is always an introverted, over sensitive person, and most of the time he is difficult to tackle the material needs in life. So, Daruma San is also unable to face the material needs in life successfully. Besides, he is a married person with a daughter too, and he hasn’t any logical reason to leave the family. Because of all these, it is not strange that he is internally conflicted. He is unable to take a firm decision with regard to his love. This is why the tone and the rhythm of the novel is heart throbbing or over sensitive.


The author doesn’t need to relate just a love story, but to present complications of human relations through the book. Hence, he always keeps the narrative emotional. The last part of the book, the monologue of Noriko is a true example for this:

“After he had been admitted I called my sister, and told her what had happened, but I had no way of informing my brother because there was no telephone in the section of the office where he worked. After about an hour I saw Daruma San being taken on a stretcher to a ward. He was followed by an elderly doctor and a nurse who pointed at me and said something to the doctor, and they both walked up to me.

“’Husband?’ he asked. He seemed to be addressing both the nurse and me. Then he added, ‘It’s rare, isn’t it?’

“I wasn’t sure what he was referring to.

“’Accident, I suppose?’ he asked next.

“The nurse stood behind the doctor and nodded vigorously to me.

“Yes,” I replied mechanically.”

In fact, the last sentence of the book brings us so close to the situation so much that we can hear and see the real incident:

“The nurse slipped to my side and closed his lids gently.”