2018 Feb 17
Books based in Sri Lanka can never disappoint in their cultural depth, tales of heartbreaking divides and disasters and traditional (yet at times, stubborn) ideals. For lovers of historical fiction and cultural richness, look no further because this is a list that will keep you highly preoccupied!
1. Running In The Family – Michael Ondaatje
This is a family memoir that deals with the author’s return to Sri Lanka and rediscovery of his family (mostly his dipsomaniac father and scandalously carefree grandmother) and his roots. Though irregular and simple, Ondaatje deals his readers with both shocking and humorous events of his neurotic family dynamics that will keep them on their toes.
2. The Road From Elephant Pass- Nihal de Silva
Battling ethnic conflicts and unexpected love affairs, Nihal de Silva spins an intriguing tale around the romance of a Sinhalese Captain of the Sri Lankan Army and a woman named Kamala Velaithan- a member of the LTTE. This heartbreaking tale won the Gratiaen Prize in 2003.
3. Cinnamon Gardens- Shyam Selvadurai
In this historical fiction set in Sri Lanka’s 1920s, Annalukshmi is a young teacher more interested in ambition than finding a suitable husband, much to her parents chagrin. It also focuses on her Uncle, Balendran, a seemingly respectable middle-aged married man having to deal with a resurfacing old fling.
4. Anil’s Ghost – Michael Ondaatje
Ondaatje’s critically acclaimed novel follows the return (after studies) of forensic pathologist, Anil Tissera, from the US to Sri Lanka. In the midst of a civil war, Anil is part of an international human rights investigation charged with finding the source behind murders occurring on the island and justice for the many other nameless victims of the war.
5. July- Karen Roberts
Priyanthi is born into a sheltered and loving Sinhalese family. Having fallen in love with the next door neighbour’s son- a gentle Christian Tamil, the two know that their love will never be approved with the rising tensions in the ethnic divisions. Come July, Colombo explodes into violence as Tamils are hunted and killed and hatred overrides the peaceful neighborhood of Priyanthi’s home. Roberts gives us a compelling and dark tale of violence and tragedy that delves deep into family drama and racial conflicts.
6. Reef- Romesh Gunesekera
Exploring the lives of marine biologist, Salvador, and his house boy, Triton, Reef also occurs against the backdrop of political unrest, a spoiled paradise and the island’s disappearing reef. Romesh Gunesekera’s skillful and captivating work won universal praise and a spot as a finalist in the Man Booker Prize.
7. A Disobedient Girl – Ru Freeman
In a compelling narrative, Freeman intertwines the lives of two strangers- Latha is a servant who believes she’s meant for better things in life and the novel follows her fight for dignity and love through a span of 30 years. Freeman also tells the tale of Biso, a mother on the run with her children from an abusive husband that unexpectedly connects her life to Latha. A Disobedient Girl covers the heartbreaking topics of class, privilege and prejudice as both women struggle for a better future.
8. At The Water’s Edge – Pradeep Jeganathan
Jeganathan’s debut collections covers seven short stories of Sri Lanka in vivid and heartbreaking detail. The stories span across 30 years and different periods of Sri Lanka’s past. The collection, being shortlisted for the 2004 Gratiaen Prize, delves into details behind power and inequality, friendship and enmity, love and loss.
9. Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka – Adele Marie Barker
In this memoir, Adele Barker chronicles her 18 month stay in Sri Lanka with her son where they immerse themselves in Sri Lanka’s culture and natural beauty, the people and the food. Upon reaching their home in Tucson, Barker hears of the tsunami that wrecked the lives of many Sri Lankan and decided to return. Her work presents a clear portrait of Sri Lankan resilience and perseverance in dark times.
10. The Hamilton Case- Michelle de Kretser
Set in the 1900s, Krestser’s novel follows an Oxford-educated lawyer by the name of Sam who seals his professional fate when he takes up the controversial “Hamilton case” and strives to pin the murder on an Englishman. Kretser gives us an intense novel on character study and murder mystery in her second award winning novel.