Armchair travel: discover Sri Lanka without leaving home.
Part of the pleasure of travel for us is the research and reading we do before and during our trips. Books add to our knowledge and enrich our understanding and appreciation of places visited in myriad ways. Here are just a few of our favourites …
Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa
Set in Colombo in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s civil war, Rajith Savanadasa’s debut novel is a sweeping family saga that looks at class, wealth, gender, intergenerational conflict, cultural conflict, politics, and more. It follows the fortunes and misfortunes of a family, with each chapter narrated by one of the five central characters in the household.
Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
This novel follows the life of Anil Tissera, a native Sri Lankan who left to study in Britain and the USA, becoming a forensic pathologist. She returns to Sri Lanka in the midst of its civil war as part of a human rights investigation by the United Nations. She, along with an archaeologist, discovers the skeleton of a recently murdered man in an ancient burial ground, which is also a government-protected zone. Believing the murder to be politically motivated, they set out to identify the skeletonand bring about justice for the nameless victims of the war.
Tamil Tigress by Niromi de Soyza
This is the autobiographical story of a former child soldier of the Sri Lankan guerrilla army Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In 1987, at the age of 17, Niromi de Soyza found herself in an ambush as part of a small platoon of militant Tamil Tigers fighting government forces in the civil war that was to engulf Sri Lanka for decades. Leaving behind her middle-class family, the teenager had become part of the Tamil Tigers’ first female contingent. Equipped with little more than a rifle and a cyanide capsule, her group managed to survive on their wits in the jungle, facing not only the perils of war but starvation, illness, and growing internal tensions among the militant Tigers.
The Divided Island by Samanth Subramanian
This is a harrowing and humane investigation of the vivid and haunting story of Sri Lanka and its brutal thirty-year civil war. The author draws out the story of Sri Lanka today through travels and conversations; he examines how people reconcile themselves to violence, how religion and state conspire, how the powerful become cruel and how victory can be put to the task of reshaping memory and burying histories.
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
This is a fictionalized memoir; it deals with the author’s return to his native island of Sri Lanka in the late 1970s. This is an evocative record of his journey in which he simultaneously retraces the mythology of his Dutch-Ceylonese family, in particular the scandalous antics of his father Mervyn Ondaatje, his grandmother Lalla, and the luxurious frivolity of the 1920s. This is both an inspired travel narrative and family memoir by an exceptional writer.
The Teardrop Island by Cherry Briggs
This is an entertaining travel narrative. Whilst living and working as a teacher in Sri Lanka, the author discovered the work of an eccentric Victorian writer and explorer, James Emerson Tennent. Deciding to follow in his footsteps she travels around the country. Her journey, beginning in Colombo, takes her to pilgrimage trails, into tea estates and rural regions inhabited by indigenous tribes, as well as through restricted areas of the former warzone. Along the way Briggs speaks or interacts with Sri Lankans from all walks of life as she explores this diverse country.
Many of the areas Briggs writes about are included in our Classic Sri Lanka itinerary.
Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka by John Gimlette
This is a fascinating and absorbing travel narrative. Sri Lanka is a small island with a long, violent and enthralling history. Journeying through its many regions – some haunted by war – the author interviews ex-presidents and cricketers, farmers, tribesmen, tea planters, tsunami survivors and terrorists, negotiating the complex relationships of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities. As he walks in the steps of old conquerors, follows the secret paths of elephants and marches alongside pilgrims, he delves deep into the nation’s story, revealing a multifaceted portrait of the island today.
Jaffna and Northern Sri Lanka are fascinating places to visit. Our Backroads of Sri Lanka itinerary takes in both.
In Search of Bawa: Master Architect of Sri Lanka by David Robson and Sebastian Posingis
Celebrates Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s pre-eminent architect, and his legacy. A comprehensive introduction to Bawa’s world, life, education and work, this lovely book examines 44 of his buildings scattered throughout Sri Lanka. Texts, contemporary and archive photographs and drawings illustrate the individual buildings, representative of his pioneering work on tropical modernism; they range from private dwellings to public buildings, schools and hotels. Today, many are considered “pilgrimage sites” by architects, designers and lay people interested in Bawa’s extraordinary and enduring talent.
Our Bawa & Beyond itinerary visits many places central to Bawa’s life, and includes stays in numerous properties designed by Bawa.
Bawa: The Sri Lanka Gardens by David Robson and Dominic Sansoni
Tells the story of two talented landscape designer brothers, Geoffrey and Bevis Bawa and their exquisite gardens, set in the lush, tropical landscape of Sri Lanka. Although Geoffrey Bawa’s architectural work and its influence have been well documented, less attention has been paid to his work on gardens. His most famous is the one he created for himself at his estate, Lunuganga, and it is rivalled by Brief, the lesser-known garden of his brother, Bevis. Evolving over several decades, these two gardens and their outbuildings and sculptures represent high points of tropical design, in which architecture and landscape are intertwined. This beautiful book explores them through rich photo essays and detailed descriptions, while glorious images reveal the aesthetic considerations and architectural mastery of the gardens’ creators.
At Home in Sri Lanka by James Fennell and Tom Sykes
It aims to discover exactly what it is that makes a great Sri Lankan home; the authors visited numerous houses and took hundreds of photographs, and interviewed owners, interior decorators, architects, stylists and designers. From the colonial grandeur of actress Gillian Anderson’s secluded retreat and the sumptuous Wallawwa Hotel, to works by the celebrated architects Geoffrey Bawa and Anjalendran, the buildings have one thing in common: they embrace the natural environment, seamlessly blending indoor and outdoor living. The 26 properties showcased in this beautiful book capture the spirit of stylish Sri Lankan living.
Our Secret Sri Lanka itinerary showcases the best Sri Lankan boutique accommodation.
Sri Lanka Style by Channa Daswatte and Dominic Sansoni
Showcases 30 of the finest traditional and modern dwellings in Sri Lanka, all designed by the island’s most creative architects and interior designers including some by the world-renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa. Ranging from private homes to retreats and resorts, they reflect the varied influences on the country from earliest times, as trade made the island open to the movements and patterns of world culture. Indigenous architects and cultural traditions, colonial incursions and the vagaries of living in a tropical environment all combined to produce a distinctive Sri Lankan architectural style.
Our own Sri Lanka in Style itinerary highlights some of the many beautiful buildings and places to stay in Sri Lanka.
We can create a tailor made itinerary for a private tour of Sri Lanka if you are interested in exploring any of the themes of these books in more depth. Please get in touch if you would like to know more.