Occasionally a reader comes across a real discovery. A few rupees to spare at Colombo International Airport in Sri Lanka prompted the purchase of a few books by local authors. Travel, if undertaken with an interest in the world rather than in oneself, requires cultural immersion and experience. Food, art, history, religions, cultures, and music are all on the list, but literature and writing should also feature. What a reader couldn’t predict from a cover that featured bananas and little else would be the fact that this set of tales would turn out to be nothing short of a revelation enough to deserve the description of a “masterpiece.”
The Banana Tree Crisis by Insankya Kodithuwakku is the book in question. It features seven short stories totaling around fifty thousand words, making it short enough for the traveler to consume before the westbound plane out of Colombo even reaches Doha. But do not think that this implies something light. Rather, the subject matter of these stories cuts right to the heart of Sri Lanka’s social structure, its political and religious conflicts, its war, its highly unequal society, even its often contentious relationship with Britain, its former colonial master.
These stories address many themes and illustrate many arguments, but don’t think for a moment that they are in any way didactic or heavy. The reality is quite the opposite, in that the writing style is sophisticatedly simple and transparent, the plots deceptively simple in their ability to convey complications with excellent empathy. There is the Hindu-Buddhist-Muslim triangle, the Sinhalese-Tamil war, the relations between the sexes and the generations, the devastation of a tsunami, the effects, intended or not, of foreign aid, and even cricket. Anyone who has visited Sri Lanka will marvel at the brilliance with which these contexts are deftly woven into the tales of ordinary people. A reader who has never been to this beautiful, turbulent, welcoming and often frenetic island might even feel that these stories are the same as a visit, so vivid are the descriptions and so seemingly real the settings. We even have a government minister being pushed through the crowd by the driver of his four-wheel drive SUV. Anyone who has visited Sri Lanka will recognize the requirement to pull off the road. The reason, by the way, why ministers’ convoys behave so roughly in traffic is that they assume bombs are never far away.
If this set of stories, The Banana Tree Crisis by Insankya Kodithuwakku, only included The House in Jaffna, it would still be worth buying, just for those twenty pages. In just a few thousand words, Insankya Kodithuwakku addresses intergenerational and cross-cultural differences, the empty consumerism of capitalism that sees personality as merely the sum of consumption, the nature of nostalgia, the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict, the fate of Jaffna and , in general, , being the appreciation of life a process of change. It is nothing less than a masterpiece of the genre.
And Insankya Kodithuwakku’s writing style is always beautifully transparent, always engaging and surprising throughout this set of stories. Insankya Kodithuwakku certainly shows great talent. If you know Sri Lanka, you will love these stories. If you’ve never been, you’ll be taken there for an authentic, enlightening and thoroughly entertaining tour. Please read The Banana Tree Crisis by Insankya Kodithuwakku.