Sri Lanka is a country blessed with great diversity and charm. Thus, it provides a wonderful backdrop for a number of my favorite books, both fiction and non-fiction. In each of these books on Sri Lanka that I have selected, the content is inextricably linked to the setting – this beautiful island with a troubled past.
These are some of them.
Best Books on Sri Lanka
Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka
The book I wish I could write. It is more than a novel about cricket, is Sri Lankan modern history through the eyes of an alcoholic. It is recognition of the tragedies, often self-inflicted, that tore at Sri Lanka’s core. And it is a detective story, a mystery, a thriller, the search for a genius Tamil cricketer whose name and records have all but been wiped out of Sri Lankan history. It is a celebration of some of the richest, funniest characters in literature. It is a prize winner, and in my view, the best Sri Lankan novel ever written.
The Seasons of Trouble: Life Amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka & Civil War by Rohini Mohan
A 368-page lesson about Sri Lanka’s civil war. In fact, this is the definitive lesson about any war; about child soldiers, mistrust, disappearances and lies. This book reads like a novel, whereas it is fact. Rohini Mohan messes with your emotions; she humanizes people we thought were monsters. She makes you root for them, understand them, believes them. This is a remarkable piece of investigative journalism and should be read by anyone who wants to understand the challenges Sri Lanka will face in rebuilding after the war. I loved it and tried my best not to finish it too quickly.
The Island of a Thousand Mirrors By Nayomi Munaweera
Winner of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for South Asia, and shortlisted for the Man Asia Prize, this is a fictional account of our 30-year war. The writing is poetic, accessible and soaked in tears. This novel is an emotional roller-coaster with a killer ending. It is the story of two girls on either side of the divide, whose lives are dictated by circumstance, but above all else, it is a tragic tale of the price we all paid for a war from which no one gained anything. Because of its content, this should be a hard book to read but it is a real page-turner.
Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
This collection of connected stories is a masterpiece. The narrative is simple and unpretentious, reflecting the innocence of the main character who, because he more enjoys dressing up with girls than playing sports with boys, is thought to be ‘funny.’ It is the story of a young man coming to terms with being Tamil and homosexual against the backdrop of civil war. I found it amusing to start with, but then as the lead character better understands his surroundings it becomes quite disturbing, but always brilliant. A great book to read and then discuss with friends.
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
This is one of the very difficult books on Sri Lanka to read because it is about the author’s loss of her family in the tsunami of 2004. It is absolutely heartbreaking, but also should be part of all reading lists. It is a study of grief, despair, and the battle to overcome the unthinkable. The author’s husband, who died in the tsunami, worked at a school my parents owned. In happier times the book talks of them borrowing the school van to explore the island. However, on December 26th, 2004 she lost everything even though she somehow survived herself. It should have been a struggle to get through the pages detailing her mental battles, but it is written so beautifully that I could not put it down.
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
This is a brilliant memoir about Ondaatje’s Dutch-Sinhalese family in Sri Lanka. It provides a glimpse into the incredible debauchery of the privileged back in the first half of the last century. It is made up of stories and incidents that are flavored with characters that are so absurd and hilarious, you probably would not get away with making them up if they were not real. More than anything, this book provides a great lesson of how to make a country a character in its own right. A must-read.
Colpetty People by Ashok Ferrey
This is a book of short stories, rich with character and wit. The author represents a new voice in Sri Lankan writing and his great strength is his observation of everyday issues here. He does this with enormous skill and charm. I would recommend this as the perfect companion for a trip around this incredible country. One story per night perhaps.
About the Author
Half Tibetan, half English, Chhimi Tenduf-La grew up in Hong Kong, England, and India, before moving to Colombo where he has lived, on and off, since 1982. Educated at Eton and Durham, he manages an international school in Colombo. His first two books, The Amazing Racist and Panther were released in 2015 and his third, a collection of short stories, will be on the shelves in 2017. Chhimi is married with two young children.
You may read my review of Chhimi Tenduf-La’s Panther
Thank you Chhimi Tenduf-La for initiating this series on AnuReviews with your favorite Books on Sri Lanka. I am definitely adding these books on Sri Lanka to my wish list.