Calling of the Forest

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By Sanuj Hathurusinghe 

Almost every novel for teens these days has a typical and common blueprint of a plot or a premise. Many authors who are in the pursuit of birthing the next ‘bestseller’ book don’t fail to include a bit of action, a pinch of mystery, a sliver of fantasy, and a healthy amount of romance mixed together with comedy and tragedy of varying amounts. This by no means a bad thing; just that it might inadvertently create a blueprint many authors would be compelled to follow to be successful. 

Some might say that this is the trend of the current world and of young readers nowadays but as a person who would give any book a go regardless of the genre, I personally feel like the trends in the book market in terms of genres are rather created by the writers or publishers themselves than the readers. Give us a quality read and regardless of the genre, we readers will most definitely fall in love with it. 

However, if certain types of books are in short supply in the market, it is inevitable the readers will move on to the readily available type or genre rather than combing the bookshelves of a library or a bookstore. Once the readers have moved on, it is natural that even the savviest reader might find it hard to sway from their adopted genre.

This is especially true in terms of coming of age fiction. In a world where magic, love, mystery and action have slowly dominated fiction it is rare to find a good book of a different theme. 

Pinabete by the Spanish author Juan Antonio de Laiglesia, is one such young adult novel that has a ‘green’ theme. The story is centred on Thiago – the protagonist of the story, a boy who loves to spend time being closer to nature rather than engaging in studies or sports – and a few other unique, peculiar, and attractive characters. In between the pages of the book, Laiglesia lyrically unveils a story that has a deeper meaning; the allure of a forest, the importance of conserving nature, and the mystic beauty of wild fauna. 

Pinabete is translated to Sinhala directly from the Spanish book by Indrani Rathnasekara, doing the utmost justice to the original book. Devthuru Landa is Rathnasekara’s 13th book and since Rathnasekara is well-versed in Spanish and is a Spanish translator, the readers can find solace in knowing that almost nothing is lost in translation. The book is an easy, quick, and smooth read, spanning only across 103 pages. However, within those pages the immersive reader can find more than enough reason to rekindle their connection with nature, and start seeing nature for its true value rather than taking it for granted. She makes the reader  think twice before harming nature and those who inhabit it, in any way. 

In the very beginning we are introduced to Thiago who has an undying love for the forest. It is revealed that he is not like any other boy of his age who loves to play games, watch TV, and try to act like a grown up to feel belonged or validated. Instead, Thiago’s only hope and dream is to get lost in the wilderness that extends just beyond his school. Not much is revealed of how Thiago has grown this fascination but the lack of that backstory doesn’t affect the reading experience in any way. After debating the idea in his head multiple times, he finally decides to enter the forest. He writes a letter to his mother who works as a cleaner, letting her know that he will be gone for a few days after which he enters the forest. 

From thereon, what he encounters in the forest is beautifully and lyrically translated by Rathnasekara. The thought process of Thiago who tries to justify his actions, how the dropped slices of bread attract ants in no time, the panoramic views of the forest from a tree top, and the accidental encounter of a wild beast; all are rather poetically told in a descriptive manner, making it effortless for the reader to imagine the forest as though they are following Thiago’s every footstep closely. 

Everything is not smooth sailing as Thiago encounters some tough times, courtesy the wild beast he is trying to evade. Eventually, these actions lead him to the caretaker of the forest. Thiago decides to spend a few days with the caretaker and learns a great deal about the forest. He meets characters we all have met only through books such as the Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf for real, and gets to know their real story contrary to what folklore tells us. The caretaker lets Thiago know about the history of the forest as well as the values of it for the humans. Thiago also meets villains with frog-like features and experiences heartbreak after seeing the damage some evil people inflict on the forest.  

The end of the book is predictably a happy one. The book doesn’t have plot twists, mind-blowing revelations, surprise character introductions or any of the jump-out-of-the-chair excitements that other coming of age novels possess. It is a slow and smooth reading, just like how a stream flows through a forest. There are a few excitements towards the end but even they don’t break the mellow pace and the poetic flow of the book.  

The translation, although simple enough for anyone to understand, has used written Sinhala rather than the spoken Sinhala which many authors as well as translators opt for these days. While sharing this story of nature, Rathnasekara has also managed to present a book with a sound Sinhala grammar which is an added benefit for any young.

Devthuru Landa teaches the reader to admire the true value of nature and therefore, it is not just a book for the young readers but ideal for readers of any age group who are willing to learn how to connect with nature again.