Literary Galle | Daily News


Literary Galle

The only port of call for serious book lovers
Galle fort - literary port of call for book lovers this weekend
Galle fort - literary port of call for book lovers this weekend

If you can’t drop everything and come to the fabulous Fairway Galle Literary Festival this weekend, put Sunday, April 16, in your diary for a book launch that will rock the island.

The enigmatic and mysterious writer and white tea producer Malinga Herman Gunaratne, hailing from the South, has been a huge fan of the festival since its inception by Festival Founder Geoffrey Dobbs in 2007. He has from his childhood been a lover of books, poetry and theatre and, like anyone with a passion for knowledge and intrigue, he will be attending the Island’s most exciting festival today and over the weekend finishing on Sunday, January 15, 2017 with a grand finale of talks, conversations and an exciting authors lunch at the Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel. Herman himself is one of Galle’s most notorious homegrown authors and has just sent his latest book to print, ‘God’s Secret Agent - A Battle Against Dark Forces.’ Juliet decided to ask him about his explosive new book and what he would be visiting during the five day Fairway Galle Literary festival, which includes talks, debates, and private affair dinners with leading authors in stunning villas and hotel settings, and an incredibly exciting contemporary Sri Lankan art exhibition curated by Janaka De Silva at The Galle Fort Gallery at 60 Lleyn Baan Street.

Action packed days

Herman loves attending as many literary events as possible, including he says with a sparkle in his eyes the odd wine tasting at The Sun House, to break up the action packed days. He found it hard to pick through this year’s even more incredible programme on the web site. His top picks include ‘in conversation’ on Friday at 11am with Sundaram on Bad News: Last journalists in a dictatorship in the wonderful Fairway Pavilion; at tea time, ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with Afdhel Aziz on Good is the New Cool; ‘A Walk Through Time and Style’ with leading architect Channa Daswatte on Saturday 14th January; the exciting conversation with ground breaking Indian author Amish Tripathi on the Shiva trilogy series in the Hall De Galle at 2.15pm; and ending the day with an exciting feast of food with festival authors and local celebrity chef Nihal Senanayake in the fabulous Jetwing Club restaurant, Jetwing Lighthouse hotel at 8.30pm. Followed by ‘Mayhem Past Midnight’ at the Sun House, not forgetting he reminds me to sober up in time for an exciting Sunday morning of talks back at the Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel.

Herman, one can see from his choices of festival events, is interested in the new ground breaking narratives in writing, discussions and great literary works. Famous in Galle for his pure Virgin White Tea, and having run over 100,000 acres of the most prestigious plantations in Ceylon (as he prefers to call it), Herman has himself already authored four fascinating books: The Plantation Raj, For a Sovereign State, Tortured Island and the bestselling The Suicide Club, which are on sale at the Festival bookshop. The Suicide Club for those that have not read it is a riches to rags to riches story like no other and charts his progress from a grandson of a preeminent tea grower, who, owing to a government grab of half his estate followed by the rest being lost on the throw of a dice, starts out as a humble tea-plucker to work his way through the ranks to basically the top job in management of the top estate.

It is an inspirational story and should really be read prior to reading his explosive new book, being launched later this year, in order to get a flavour of the type and calibre of this man.

One true God

Truth as we all know is often stranger than fiction and so it is in this world where the devil dupes mankind over and over again into thinking he is god.

Herman sets out on a journey over the last year to produce a book on a subject no one really feels comfortable talking about, particularly in the west, as it is one of the last real taboos: curses.

This extraordinary book is the true story of a doubting Thomas in the world of Ceylon witchcraft or ‘mumbo jumbo’ as Herman likes to call it. Only, the mumbo jumbo in this book is very real and is all about bottles, hair, deadly stethoscopes, inhuman screams, bloody goats’ heads appearing from graveyards, snakes conjured out of thin air, demonic possessions with smatterings of holy water, prayers leading to visions and plenty of digging that would leave even crime writer Agatha Christie shaken to her core.

  It is also the story of the power of two great religions, not in collision but working together to take on a whole host of demons that call themselves gods. This is not a new thing for the word demon is derived from the Greek for god and so ultimately it is about the one true God.

Herman’s stories in ‘God’s Secret Agent’ are not limited to the lower echelons of society, where most people think that witchcraft abounds still, simply in the imagination of the poorly educated and ignorant. No, these stories span the entire spectrum of the people of Sri Lanka from top to bottom of the island and go as far as how even a president was cursed during the civil war.

Great storyteller

It is a fascinating journey about a small band of people travelling through many dark places, both physically and spiritually. It is worth pointing out that Sri Lanka has some of the most highly educated people in the world, especially in the medical profession and even here we have a tale of a top surgeon employing witchcraft effectively against his rival.

But the main character of the story, besides notorious Galle tea planter Herman, is the humble exorcist, a man from one great religion casting devils out in the name of another. His story is truly astonishing and one that would be considered too farfetched if it had been made up.

Herman is a great storyteller with an even greater story to tell so do stop and talk to him about it if you see him at one of the many festival events. The question is why, do we think, has he left writing this book for his twilight years.

Is it because he was afraid of what might happen to him or was it to protect some of the characters in the book still living? Maybe it is just that he didn’t think anyone would believe him before, or maybe a combination of all three? Herman wanted to call the book ‘In the name of God’ and we agonised over whether to indeed give it that name, for God must have the last word and this debate continues. However, we are settled currently after interviewing hundreds of people about the subject on ‘God’s Secret Agent’ although we were tempted to call it the God brothers as in some ways the book has Blues Brother energy to it.

The stories are not about conventional religious wisdom; rather they are about evil spirits and good spirits and the war between them with humans as purely the vehicles and supplicants for their motivation. The name is also perhaps more reflective of Sri Lanka’s current status with witchcraft, where the country on one level, seems to be the Devil’s playground, some say since being re-named Sri Lanka in 1974. But ultimately the book is about hope and faith and the power of GOD.

If any book lover at the festival is interested in coming along to Herman Gunaratne’s latest launch in April, do email [email protected] for more information and an invitation. Fairway Galle Festival is from Wednesday January 11 to Sunday, January 15, 2017.

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