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Book Review: Bayan by Pramudith D. Rupasinghe

Bayan by Pramudith D. Rupasinghe is a classic piece of literature caught between the chasm of pre and post Soviet era. “Bayan” is a sort of Russian musical instrument that keeps the protagonist Ivan alive. The novel is about a 70-year-old man named Ivan Nikolayevich. Through his wisdom and cogitation and soliloquy and later interaction with a stranger from South America, we get acquainted with the profound psychological effect it leaves on readers. The novel, by all means, is beautifully written with heaviness that is hard to understand for na├»ve or shallow readers.

Ivan is most of the time busy with his Bayan. It is the music and songs of his own imagination that keeps him floating in the ocean of memories. The novel explores the hammering of old age and how a creative and aloof heart copes up with it. Ivan is matchless while thinking and talking about the old culture and transitions he had been through due to social and political shifts. The novel is brimming with cultural insights and songs that can heal any wounded soul, for instance Ivan compares his good old days in the pre Soviet era with Katyusha, a traditional Soviet song of the girl who was waiting for her beloved soldier. Not only that, in fact, famous Ukrainian Marshukta (a mini bus for public transport) and the river Vorskla, where he met Nadya – all pull him back in time when he was young and trying to be resilient with his social duties and family allegiance. For Ivan, every road, every summer, every winter, markets, old houses – all remind him something pleasant or bad that changed despite his exigencies or willingness.

How does a man look with a burden of old age? How do lives change when nations are divided? The novel Bayan makes note of all these plights and the short spells of happiness that if ever existed. One of the strongest themes of the novel is ‘changing time’. Not all have the capacity to cope up with the changes that life throws unexpectedly. As a reader I got to know the coping capacity of Ivan when I was going through the life story of Nadya and her inherent physical issue. Though Ivan was a happy and smooth man during the Soviet era but he had his own share of pain when he first separated with his first wife and then the death of Nadya.

In the cold landscape of Ukraine, life of Ivan had really been damp with old days’ saga of pain and struggle. But the ray of solace is his musical instrument Bayan. Bayan keeps the ‘music of life’ on for Ivan. The novel is thought-provoking in its pure essence and made me fall with the exquisite writing style of the author. Post midway, I could not stop myself. I knew I was reading a novel that is laden with human feelings with no specific plot…but I was loving it. It is such a terrific novel that I run short of words to fully express it. A great piece of literature!

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