The Teardrop of the Subcontinent: A Tour of the Literature of Sri Lanka

Morgan in SLMorgan Meis in Virginia Quarterly Review:

Witness, if you will, Ashok Ferrey. A more urbane gentleman you may not meet. His prose, such as what may be his masterpiece Colpetty People, written in English, is witty and clever. And sly.

His sentences snap off the page. The novel begins: “I had always wanted to build the perfect house. For years I had looked at other people’s, surreptitiously, because as you know, houses don’t like to be stared at, whatever their owners might think.”

The book goes on to describe, in good humor, the utter failure of that building project. Ferrey’s home on Flower Road in the fashionable part of town has the fantastical aura of a place created for another era, one that could comfortably contain Scarlett O’Hara, Graham Greene, and Marguerite Duras all at one time for a dinner party. It has huge decorative earthenware and spots of sun under the grand piano in which the kittens play.

Ashok Ferrey, one would think, could not be in a world further away from Ayathurai Santhan’s Jaffna if he were in outer space. In fact, though, this is not true. He lived in London for a time, but he couldn’t escape. And in the end, he didn’t really want to.

Ferrey wrote a book recently that wasn’t so well received by the English language sophisticates of Sri Lanka. You could call it a book of self-criticism. Ashok Ferrey, you see, had a disturbing encounter with a thumb that made it impossible for him to remain complacent about life in Colombo. He writes about the thumb in the book, Serendipity.

On the very first page of this book, a bomb goes off. A fashionable society lady is asked by her husband what the noise was during his nap. “Nothing dear,” she says, “just a bomb.” And then a few minutes later she finds a thumb in her garden, ejected from the blast. She discards it without a second thought.