This review was originally posted by Dr. Sanjiva on his blog at https://www.sanjivawijesinha.com
I have just finished reading a delightful book, Sunil Tantirige’s charming collection of stories about his childhood in Sri Lanka in the sixties and seventies.
Entitled The House of a Thousand Memories, this book brought back to me so many memories of my own childhood spent during the same period in Sri Lanka, that tiny island (about the same size as Tasmania and a little over half the size of Newfoundland) from which so many of our compatriots have migrated to various countries of the world. The book, says the author, was written for his own son, born in Canada of Sri Lankan parents, so that he might gain some understanding and appreciation of the land and culture of his parents. It is, he says, “a gift from a father who grew up in Sri lanka to a son who grew up in Canada”.
In my view, this very readable book is much more. It is one that will be appreciated by many others – not only by those who have some connection to Sri Lanka by birth, marriage or association, but also by those who may never have heard of our little island until they first pick up this book.
The House of a Thousand Memories refers to the house in Mount Lavinia, then a sleepy southern suburb of the capital Colombo, to which Tantirige’s father (then an officer in Sri Lanka’s Department Education who would go on to become Director of Education) in 1964 brought his young family to live. From that time on, Tantirige and his older sister, together with their parents lived in this house with its sprawling garden complete with tropical fruit trees and even a traditional well!
The House, like many Sri lankan homes of that era, was an open house for the neighbours’ children and the various cousins who came to play – and in a few instances, to stay in order to attend schools in Colombo. Unlike the nuclear families of the 21st century, families in Sri Lanka then were extended families – and through his humorous yet very personal and revealing prose, Tantirige paints for the reader a picture of what life was like in those days.
It was a life we took for granted, those carefree days that we as children (like in the 1968 Mary Hopkin song!) thought would never end!
Tantirige writes lovingly of his own father, Mr Aluthvala Tantirige Samarapala, who grew up in a small village in southern Sri Lanka, and then by dint of educating himself well – first in the village temple, then the village primary school, the high school in the big town and subsequently in the newly established University of Ceylon – was able to join the government Education Department. Having started his career as a teacher himself, Mr Samarapala valued education and encouraged both his children to do well in their studies and go on to university. He was certainly a polymath – but he was also someone who never hesitated, if there was an opportunity, to help others who were less fortunate than himself.
I got the impression that Tantirige has written this book as a gift not just for his own son but also a tribute to his own father – and well it is. But is is also a book that will be enjoyed by the next generation of Sri Lankans – more pertinently, the next generations of Canadians, Australians, Americans, Britishers and citizens of countries outside Sri Lanka – who were born in those countries after their parents left Sri Lanka to move to those countries in the latter part of the last century.In the pages of this well written and very readable book the reader will discover and appreciate what life in Sri Lanka of the sixties and seventies was like, in a place which was at that time an enchanted island.
In the final chapter of the book, Tantirige writes of his last visit to The House. He visualises the House, not Old Tired and Lonely as it is now but as it was during his childhoood, when he remembers it being a place full of Life, Laughter and People. In his sadness, he imagines the House talking to him.
“Don’t feel sad” The House tells him, “Walls may crumble, roofs may fall, trees may die – but your memories will remain”
Tantirige must be commended for retaining his memories – and sharing them with us. I highly recommend The House of a Thousand Memories.