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The Sweet and Simple Kind [Paperback]

Yasmine Gooneratne

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Book Description

May 10 2011
As Ceylon evolves into independent, turbulent Sir Lanka and a highly political family attempts to balance language with religion and privilege with equity, two young women pursue their personal freedoms
In an engrossing and dramatic family drama set against the backdrop of Ceylon's bumpy evolution into Sri Lanka, the Wijesinha clan struggle to balance their staunch political ambition against the ignominy of an embarrassing family scandal. And when two young cousins Tsunami and Latha become firm friends no one can guess how their loyal support of one another will help them win personal freedom against all odds. Beautifully written and resonant in its social insights, this tale creates a richly imagined world of love, political chicanery, and family turmoil in the newly independent Sri Lanka of the 1950s and 1960s—a story that's enchanting with its combination of authenticity, humor, and passion.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown Trade Division; Reprint edition (May 10 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349121745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349121741
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #739,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"There is much to commend. . . . As one of her characters comments, 'Jane Austen's observation of society was part critical, part amused.' That quality is evident here."  —Sunday Times

"Sensitively observed, at once a bold novel of national consciousness and a tender tale of family and friendship."  —Sunday Business Post

About the Author

Yasmine Gooneratne was born in Sri Lanka. She won acclaim as a critic and has published several works of literary criticism, including studies of Jane Austen, Alexander Pope, Leonard Woolf, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and one previous novel.

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, engaging, but a bit soft around the edges July 17 2011
By Cary Watson - Published on Amazon.com
Yasmine Gooneratne is Sri Lankan born and bred, and her native country is the setting for this ambitious novel that details the changes that gripped Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) from independence in 1948 to the race riots in 1958 that foreshadowed the civil war that began in 1983.

Gooneratne centres her story around two female cousins, Latha and the rather portentously named Tsunami. The latter is from the rich side of the Wijesinha family, while Latha's family is decidedly middle-class. The two girls become fast friends as young girls at Lucas Falls, a large house and tea plantation owned by Tsunami's father, Rowland. Latha visits Lucas Falls on her vacations and is a witness to what amounts to the moral decline and fall of Tsunami's family over the course of the next dozen or so years.

When we first meet Rowland he's married to Helen, a skilled amateur artist originally from India, and their lifestyle is in most respects that of an upper-class English family. Their taste in literature is Anglocentric, Helen's art is Western, their peers are often Oxbridge educated, cricket is an obsession, and their children attend elite local schools modeled on institutions like Eton and Harrow. In sum, they're almost more English than the English.

Gooneratne depicts Latha and Tsunami's early years at Lucas Falls as a kind of Eden in which the two girls discover a shared love of books and learning. Helen is the muse of this paradise, encouraging the girl's curiosity, discussing art and literature with them, and generally encouraging a liberal way of thinking. The dark cloud in paradise is Rowland, who acts the part of the English gentleman, but soon becomes influenced by the rising tide of Sinhala nationalism that will eventually tear the country apart. Rowland is from an ancient Sinhala family and becomes caught up in politics after Independence in 1948. In what almost seems a symbolic act, he disparages Helen's art, and not long after that Helen leaves Rowland for Mr Goldman, a German rep of tea wholesalers.

The rest of the novel follows Latha and Tsunami as they navigate the difficulties of love and courtship in Ceylon's deeply conservative society, and struggle with life at university. Meanwhile, in the background, Ceylon's post-colonial political life becomes more vicious, culminating in deadly race riots aimed at the Tamil minority. Rowland moves further along the path of Sinhala nationalism and his family becomes as fractured as the country itself, with his two eldest children, Ranil and Tara, becoming as morally vicious as the political conflict.

Gooneratne is a professor of 19th century English literature, with a special interest in Jane Austen, and it shows in her writing, for good and not quite so good. On the plus side, she knows how to spin out a family saga and juggle multiple storylines and characters. This makes the novel very readable, almost addictively so, and her characterization is usually very sharp. The political elements are skillfully interwoven, and even non-Sri Lankans, such as myself, should have no problem understanding the political and cultural makeup of the county.

The problem with this novel is is its gentility, its cosiness. Gooneratne can be brutally realistic at times, but on too many occasions characters and events are bathed in a warm glow of sentimentality and nostalgia. And this also applies to the plot. The middle section of the novel is mostly taken up with Latha and Tsunami's life at university, and too much of it reads like an affectionate, but static, memoir of university life.

The Sweet and Simple Kind is well worth reading, if only for the elegance of Gooteratne's prose. For example, here's a short passage describing the Lucas Falls estate:

When the wreaths of mist lift, leaving the grass wet with dew, mornings on the estate clink and ring with birdsong, sounding very much as if a crowd of children were jingling thin silver coins in their pockets, considering the possibilities.

Writing that good doesn't come along nearly often enough.

Read more of my reviews at JettisonCocoon dot com.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delicious Sweeping Contemporary History June 23 2011
By Kathleen J. Leonhardt - Published on Amazon.com
Had to have major surgery at beginning of month and someone brought this book saying that as I love history, India, Pakistan and SriLanka-- I would love this--kind of thought the title was a bit 'out-of-here' but boy! Once I got started I couldn't put it down! Absolutely swept up in post colonial Ceylon(Sri Lanka)--and the birthing of the current state-- interwoven with asian contemporary coming-of-age. This book describes the British cultural influence to the nth degree--I almost could see the Bird's Custard and stewed fruit on the dining room table--yet so beautifully paints the Sri Lankan cultural experience as an underlying flow penetrating the whole. This book sometimes reminded me of 'Midnight's Children' by S Rushdie as the author describes the 50's and 60's in Ceylon(SriLanka)as a wonderful toss of western culture and values re-mixed with a combo Hindu, Sengelese,Tamil,English flavor! The gist of the book follows a prominent SriLankan family's journey from the 40's up to the early 60's--against political pressures, nationalism, the ideals of a new nation, education, romance,and family life.Two cousins--one from the richer side of the family--and one the poorer--grow up together and go off to university--then launch to adulthood. The author is a poet so I was not surprised at the lyrical writing--this was a written 'movie'--sometimes the British university environment was a bit much and the main character, 'Latha' a little too good for words--but overall--loved. Many paradoxical moments--arranged marriages against liberal education; pretending cultural identity to achieve political prominence; inspiring ethnic division to retain power--you will always think deeper the next time you drink your tea!

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