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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

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Life in Paradise - through a comic eye

The Mirror of Paradise – a collection of stories by Asgar Hussein – has earned much acclaim by critics. The book depicts the absurdities of life in a distinctively Sri Lankan setting. Noted for its wry humour and wit, it was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize.

A renowned academic, Prof. Siromi Fernando noted that the author “uses a comic view to present a keen and original analysis of human nature.” She also stated that his subject matter possesses width and variety, dealing both with urban phenomena like the underworld, high-level swindlers, booze sessions, cricket by ‘boys down the lane’, and abstract art; as well as more rural issues like village politics and evil spirits.

According to Prof. Siromi, there are two significant characteristics of this book. Firstly, she mentions Asgar Hussein’s natural and easy style of writing. Secondly, she notes the masculinity of his style of writing and perspective of human nature. She adds that the masculine handling of these stories is refreshingly different when one places these against the bulk of Sri Lankan English creative writing, which is written by women authors.

Another distinguished critic, Prof. Yasmine Gooneratne also praised The Mirror of Paradise. She described it as “a most lively and amusing book that cannot fail, with its vitality and comic ingenuity, to appeal to the Sri Lankan love of laughter.” She noted that it reflects customs, manners and ways of thinking that are immediately recognizable as our own, in a language that rings the changes on expressions which could have been developed in no other society.

According to Prof. Yasmine, this insightful book reveals much about the island’s inner life that is far from paradisal. She said, “Rapidly shifting focus from boardroom to beach hut, from wedding hall to village, from a university campus to a quiet suburban street, Hussein’s ‘mirror’ gives back images of Sri Lanka that are at once authentic and ironic, its thirteen stories reflecting facets of local life which constantly seem to bemuse the narrator while being perfectly recognizable to the reader.”

Prof. Yasmine observed that Hussein’s stories show he is well aware of the wealth of comic potential offered by his homeland. She also said he brilliantly caricatures human eccentricities, and exploits our linguistic foibles to the full.

 

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