Photo from inside a library


As time winds down before you head to Sri Lanka on holiday, undoubtedly your web searches for “Sri Lanka beaches” and “Sri Lanka landmarks” will go up. It’s easy to daydream about the fun you’ll have once you get there, but sometimes it’s hard to get a sense of a country or culture before you arrive. One of the best ways to jump-start your immersion into a country is to read novels or books about the place.

Authors from within the country can provide essential insights into how the country feels to them, and how their country inspires them. Authors from other countries visiting Sri Lanka can give you a better idea of what struggles they went through, what aspects of the culture shocked them and what they enjoyed the most. With this information in hand before you leave for your holiday, you’ll be better prepared than if you had read an entire guidebook from cover to cover. Use Cover-More’s reading list to get a first-hand look at the country and to learn more about the people and vibe of Sri Lanka.

Running in the Family, by Micharl Ondaatje

In this family memoir, author Michael Ondaatje blurs fact and fiction to create an original portrait of a lost time and place. Ondaatje left Ceylon (which is now Sri Lanka) at the age of eleven. Almost twenty-five years later, he returned to Sri Lanka with a goal: to sort out the memories of experience and legend. The memoir is full of eccentric characters and captivating stories that will get you lost in his world. All these stories are set against the exotic landscape of a colonial empire in decline. “Running in the Family” is an important and unforgettable journey through memory to reclaim family history and self-identity.

The Village in the Jungle, by Leonard Woolf

An older narrative of life in Ceylon, Leonard Woolf wrote this novel after seven years working as a colonial officer. The book shows his growing disillusionment with the British colonial system. It was first published back in 1913, and a majority of Woolf’s story centres on the village of Beddagana (which means, 'the village in the jungle', hence the title). "All jungles are evil, but no jungle is more evil than that which lay about the village of Beddagama..." he states and, "the rule of the jungle is first fear, and then hunger and thirst."

It’s an interesting and generally un-heard story about how isolated communities deal with problems that arise and how society and cultural norms shape actions and beliefs. There are also plenty of descriptions about the superstition of a people living a very difficult life; trying to eke out a difficult existence, threatened by debts and by their powerlessness. When you read Woolf’s book, you can really get a sense of the jungle as a spiteful environment, constantly adding pressure to the small village within it. This novel is very well written, and worth reading if you are travelling to Sri Lanka.

July, by Karen Roberts

The synopsis of this book explains its premise better than anyone else could, “Priyanthi Silva is born in Sri Lanka into a peaceful, loving Sinhalese family, but into a turbulent country dogged by religious and political tensions. She and her brother Hemantha grow up in Araliya Gardens, a tropical paradise full of orchids and mango trees. Their neighbours are Christian Tamils whose gentle, handsome son Niranjan is Hemantha's best friend. When Priyanthi is older, the two families spend a holiday together, and by the time they return home Priyanthi and Niranjan have fallen in love.

But it is an unthinkable match to both their families, and to a society riven with ethnic divisions. On a hot July day that year the streets of Colombo explode into frenzied violence as mobs begin to hunt and murder Tamils and burn and loot their property. The dark secret Priyanthi and Niranjan have been hiding leads to betrayal and tragedy, as an inferno of hatred overcomes their peaceful neighbourhood.”

Round the Tea Totum: When Sri Lanka Was Ceylon, by David Ebbels

This book is an outstanding description of life in Sri Lanka before and after independence.  The author, Ebbels, is the son of a tea estate manager who was a child in Sri Lanka, went to high school in Australia, and became an assistant tea estate manager for six years back in the 1950s.  The book is a charming combination of information about Sri Lankan culture, the business of tea, Sri Lanka’s geography, plants and animals. With a touch of good humour, the book is a delightful read about Sri Lanka, and even though it was only first published in 2006, it’s for the better as Ebbels was able to supplement his own memories with research and reflection on his life.

A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks, by Rory Spowers

BBC journalist and environmentalist Rory Spowers wanted to finally live his dream and abandon life in London for a more ecologically sustainable lifestyle. So, he picked up his family and life and moved to a 60–acre abandoned tea estate in Sri Lanka. Here, Rory sets out to create a model organic farm there and earn his livelihood from the land. His fascinating story starts with the tsunami and his involvement with the relief efforts, and charts the course of his adventures over the course of a year culminating in the launch of his new business. He aims to make a living by selling the produce he grows. The novel chronicles the highs and lows of this radical change, and reveals what it takes and the challenges of living a sustainable life. Spowers' narrative is relatable as he shares harrowing moments and small triumphs. Over the year, you can see how he comes to know the people and the land.

Hit up the library or order a couple of books that caught your attention and get reading. It’ll make for great reading materials during your travelling time, all while keeping you in the right mindset for your arrival and the beginning of your grand adventures in Sri Lanka. Prevent anything unexpected from interrupting your perfect holiday by getting travel insurance, so you can keep your fun going!

Image courtesy of Flickr user Loughborough University