Sri Lankan writer
launches book in Yangon
THE printed word is still very much alive in Myanmar despite the onslaught of new mass media technologies and the digital industry. Testament to this is the ubiquitous vendors selling books and other printed materials lined up on the streets or bookshops of all shapes and sizes selling all kinds of printed materials.
So it was just appropriate that Pramudith D Rupasinghe, a famous Sri Lankan author who now lives in Switzerland, was treated like a rock star when he held a book signing event in Yangon.
The event was held last week at Innwa Books and Café in Myanmar Plaza. Innwa is one of the more famous bookshop chains in Yangon.
Rupasinghe, authored three previous novels that have been well-received by Myanmar book lovers.
He is a clinical psychologist by profession who has worked in various parts around the world, from Haiti, to Northern Rakhine as a humanitarian diplomat. He worked in Liberia as a mental health specialist helping to deal with an Ebola outbreak.
Recently, he began to follow the ‘Semi-Fiction’ genre with his title ‘Footprints in obscurity`, and ‘Behind the EclipseThe unheard from the West African Ebola Crisis’, which is considered as one of the most read books in 2016 in the humanitarian community.
Dubbed the “Writer without borders” by the UK’s Daily Mirror, Rupasinghe signed copies of his books for fans from 10am to 1pm, and was even generous enough to chat and have coffee with some of them.
The author warmly welcomed people who attended the event and chatted with them about his newest novel, Bayan, and his enthusiasm and support of Yangon’s literary scene.
Bayan, will appeal to readers who like serious literature. Those at the event who had the opportunity to read the novel set in Ukraine said they found it “captivating and hard to put down”.
Rupasinghe infuses the novel, which revolves around the
life of protagonist, Ivan Nikolayevich who suffers from senility, with lyrical prose and poetry while informing readers about a mental health issue that is faced by many around the world.
The novel also provides a window into life in another age in the former Soviet Union, tying the elements together in a concrete and believable whole.
Speaking to the media after the book signing Rupasinghe said, “This event called a literary chatter is not like a classic signing event, but it is more to welcome my readers from Myanmar and have a chat with them about my writing in general. In fact, life in general is literature which means that we are pretty informal in this platform. We discuss books, and how a book can enhance our life, bringing some quality to our lifestyles.”
On his novel, the author explained, “This is my fourth book. “Bayan is a different story, not like what I have done before. This is I would say the most challenging writing experience I had in my life so far for me as a writer because this book is unique for me. It’s set in north eastern tip of Ukraine, which is bordering into Russia. One old man around 73 when I met him, was alone. He had two daughters who had left the house and started their own lives; this man has developed a relationship, which is pretty psychological relationship with this classical instrument like an accordion called “Bayan” which he sees as his companion because there was no one around him. I took this part or element of life of him and I tried to explore the story of people developing companionship with inanimate objects when they are old.”
“Bayan is about exploring the aging process and also talks a lot about historical elements about the Soviet Union and its collapse. The protagonist lived in the time of Soviet Union, working in the Soviet system when all of the sudden everything changed. Then, he lived in so-called democracy and a capitalist society in which he finds himself lost. And this is a struggle of life through changing social and political systems. On top of everything, he is all alone but his bayan keeps him alive, just like a human being who supports him and that’s a psychological journey in life.”
“It’s about the relationship between a person and a musical instrument. The melody played in anger will be different from a melody played with calm.”
Asked about the time it took to write the novel, Rupasinghe said: “I took around two years because I was writing it while working with the UN and travelling around the world for humanitarian diplomacy. Most of the time, I write on flights and in long transit lounges, so I prefer long transits.
In a message for his readers, the author said: “I hope people will think about the inner lives of elders and how they see life. In this novel, Ivan says “stay in the present” which will keep you happy and contentment. This is what it is all about. Stay in the present that will keep you happy.”
“Writing itself is discovering oneself. So, keep trying, don’t give up, and it’s a process. Keep writing, keep living in your story, and don’t give up,” Rupasinghe said to aspiring writers in Myanmar.
The novel Bayan has been translated into several languages, including Polish. The Myanmar version is expected to be available next year with translation by Soe Myint Thu.
‘Bayan is a different story...it was the most challenging experience I had in my life.’ Pramudith D. Rupasinghe Author