Book review: Facebook and Passage to Literary Art
By R.S. Karunaratne
Senarathne Weerasinghe’s ‘Facebook and Passage to Literary Art’ is an unusual book that discusses a host of subjects including Hindustan music, great musicians such as S.D. Burman, Devar Suryasena, Hindi cinema, the ’70 Group of Kelaniya University, China’s Shaolin monastery, Disco culture, COVID-19, quarantine, opium war in literature, operation Robin Hood, world literature and contemporary literary criticism.
The author believes that Facebook has become a very useful literary implement in the hands of authors and readers. He maintains his Facebook page to comment on contemporary issues. Although he is essentially a recognised translator, Senarathne shows his writing skills in compiling a book of commentaries on literary men and their literature. He appears to be a ruthless literary critic who calls a spade a spade.
His comments on the Hindi cinema and its influence on the Sinhala cinema are a praiseworthy contribution to filmmakers and viewers. He gives ample examples to show how Sinhala film songs have been influenced by Hindi songs. Senarathne goes down memory lane taking the reader by the hand and introducing a number of leading literary men, such as Prof. Wimalananda Tennakoon, Dayananda Gunawardane, A.M.G. Sirimanne, Prof. Miniwan P. Thilakaratne, and Prof. Wimal Dissanayake.
The chapter on Martin Wickramasinghe and the art of literary criticism should be read by all modern critics. Some of them seem to apply outdated Victorian concepts and Marxist standards to assess works of art. Martin Wickramasinghe was perhaps the first literary critic who used his own standards based on Sri Lankan culture. As a student I was influenced by his writing style and considered him as my role model as far as writing was concerned. Although I did not have an opportunity to meet him, I understood his way of thinking by reading and rereading his books. Senarathne too seems to have been influenced by Martin Wickramasinghe.
Very few authors have written on local comedians such as Tennyson Cooray, Bandu Samarasinghe and Freddie Silva. Most people regard them as simple comedians who make us laugh. However, Senarathne has given them a literary value as they are performing a difficult job. It is not easy to make people laugh. You need some special skills to do so. We still remember Charlie Chaplin and his pranks in silent films. His actions evoked rib-tickling laughter in the audience. Even our own Bandu Samarasinghe makes us laugh without much effort.
I particularly liked his comments on Sinhala poems. In my formative years I used to read Sinhala poems written by John Rajadasa, P.B. Alwis Perera and Meemana Prematilleke. I used to attend ‘Kavimadu’ where poets recited poems impromptu. However, we are living in an era in which poets are not recognised. Most people do not read poetry or buy poetry books. In the 1950s there were several magazines such as ‘Meevadaya’ devoted to poems and they were selling like hot cakes. A.M.G. Sirimanne’s ‘Bhavitha Vicharaya’ was a landmark in literary criticism. Prof. Wimal Dissanayake too tried to popularise Sinhala poems among readers.
The book carries a few comments made by readers who have read Senarathne Weerasinghe’s books. Ireka Seneviratne comments on Senarathne’s Sinhala translation of ‘Fathers and Sons’ by Ivan Turgenev. Nisali Madhushani’s comments on the translation of Denis Clark’s ‘Golden Island’ are noteworthy. Writers always need such feedback from readers.
Facebook has helped the author to reach a wide spectrum of readers here and abroad. This is a novel experience for a writer.