These are a few books, obviously with a strong Sri Lankan bent, which members have enjoyed. Please feel free to suggest other titles, both fiction and non-fiction to add to the list below.
TEA AND EMPIRE: JAMES TAYLOR IN VICTORIAN CEYLON
by Professors Angela Mc Carthy and Sir Tom Devine
Tea and Empire brings to life for the first time the remarkable story of James Taylor, 'father of the Ceylon tea enterprise' in the nineteenth century. Publicly celebrated in Sri Lanka for his part in transforming the country's economy and shaping the world's drinking habits, Taylor died in disgrace and remains unknown to the present day in his native Scotland.
Uncovering a unique archive of Taylor's letters written over a forty-year period, the book's authors provide an unusually detailed and fascinating reconstruction of a British planter's life in Asia at the height of the British empire as well as charting the development of one of Ceylon's key commodities in the nineteenth century, the book examines the dark side of planting life including violence and oppression, including graphic depictions of the Indian Mutiny. Themes such as migration, environmental transformation, cross-cultural contact and emotional ties to home are also explored in the book.
RRP £25.00 Hardback - 272 Pages
SEEING BETTER NOW
by Michael Roc Thomas
Seeing Better Now comprises 56 tropical & topical tales told in verse. It begins with Michael & his wife’s arrival in Sri Lanka in 2000, but goes on to relate tales from across Asia and beyond. In 2006 his daughter Steele was born very premature and diagnosed with Retinopathy of Prematurity, which in most cases leads to total loss of sight. Michael wrote these and many more stories to stimulate her other senses.
Hardback - 82 pages of illustrated magic.
SUNDAY TIMES April ’18 - “Verses that make an unseen world jump out of the page. An Amazing Book."
DAILY MIRROR April ’18 - “The magic in Seeing Better Now. The book brushes your heart in the gentlest of ways."
SUNDAY ISLAND January '18 - "A Tour de Force of Magical Verse! Poetry? No, much more fun!"
A percentage of the sales are going to Nest, a registered charity that cares for children with life changing disabilities across Sri Lanka.)
NOTHING PREPARES YOU
by Vivimarie VanderPoorten
Inscript (pvt) Ltd Colombo 2007
Reprinted Perera Hussein Colombo 2012
Dr. VanderPoorten teaches English Literature at the University of Kelaniya and this, her first book of poems, won the Gratiaen Prize in 2006.
Dushyanthi Mendis, Chair of the Gratiaen judges, wrote that "she has the ability of making deeply personal experiences accessible to any reader. Within these pages one encounters life again, served up without apology or tempering, delivered with an economy of expression which only heightens the impact of the onslaught".
The poems are of love and war and are beautiful and courageous: the writer holds you in the palm of her hand.
The book is notoriously difficult to source, but well worth the struggle.
We think they are masterpieces and are delighted that nothing prepares you has been reprinted, with an extra poem, and is available online at
ISBN 978-955-8943-038 LKR 295:00
Inscript (Pvt) Ltd., 261 Vijaya Kumaratunga Mawatha, Colombo 5.
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
THE PORTUGUESE IN THE EAST
A cultural history of a maritime trading empire
Dr. Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya
- B. Tauris Publishers, Macmillan Distribution. 2008
GUIDE PRICE : £52:00
Shihan is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and associated with the Department of Portuguese & Brazilian Studies at King’s College.
Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India in the late 15th century opened up new economic and cultural horizons for the Portuguese. At the height of Portugal’s maritime influence it had created an oceanic state ranging from the Cape of Good Hope to China.
In this book Shihan charts the influences of the Portuguese in more than fifty Asian tongues and shows that the Lusitanian imprint lies not simply within the official empire but also outside its boundaries – and that the Portuguese, although superseded by other colonial powers and then decolonisation, have demonstrated remarkable staying power. ^
AFRICAN IDENTITY IN ASIA
Cultural effects of forced migration
Dr. Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya
Mark Wiener Publishers 2009
ISBN paperback 978-1-55876-472-9
GUIDE PRICE : £27:50
Here Dr. de Silva Jayasuriya shows how, unconsciously, forced African migrants have become cultural brokers between two continents.
She writes of the military impact by first generation African migrants in Asia and the descendants of the royal Africans who governed Sachin and Janjira in India - and of the African music and dance that have contributed to the local Middle Eastern and South Asian arts scene.
Using documented and oral historical accounts, the silent history and conflicting identity of Asia’s Africans is explored through case studies to show their assimilation, social mobility and marginalisation.
ISBN 0-7432-2030-7 Simon & Schuster 2006
GUIDE PRICE : £25:00
Leonard Woolf’s name is familiar to most Sri Lankans and Friends of Sri Lanka as a junior member of the British administration in the early years of the twentieth century and, as the author of The Village in the Jungle, a novel of Ceylonese life.
In her biography, Victoria Glendinning gives full weight to this theme and – as far as I can judge – gets the Lankan background right. But her work is much more than that: she covers the long life of a gifted, if slightly scratchy, writer and publisher, married to a writer of genius, who was also mentally unstable.
Glendinning gives a sympathetic and humane account of Woolf’s full life, of his links to Bloomsbury, to the British intellectual left and eventually of his final visit to independent Sri Lanka in 1960. This is a remarkable portrait of a remarkable man. ^
WOOLF IN CEYLON
An imperial journey in the shadow of Leonard Woolf 1904 - 1911
ISBN 0-00-200718-5 Harper Collins 2005
GUIDE PRICE : £24:95
Christopher Ondaatje follows in the footsteps of Woolf, drawing on his personal experience of Ceylon and empire. This lavishly illustrated book covers the transformation of the people and the country from imperial days to the post-colonial era. Also brought out is Woolf’s personal disillusionment with the British colonial system.
The Governor’s Palace
ISBN 0-9534963-1-7 / 978-0-9534963-1-0
Paradise Isle Publication, 119 Shirland Road, London W9 2EW 2006
Shevanthie Goonesekera studied classical architecture at Chelsea College of Art & Design and City University and art and architecture of the Indian sub continent at the Institute of Indian Culture.
This book traces the history of the mansion from its foundation in 1815 as Sir Thomas Maitland’s “small bungalow in the country” (as the Governor wrote to Lord Camden in London!) through its metamorphosis into Lord Barnes’ palace in 1830 and on through its varied career, from the late nineteenth century to today, as Mount Lavinia Hotel.
An enchanting book, beautifully illustrated with everything from early Thomas Cook posters to photographs and paintings of old Ceylon. ^
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SRI LANKA
ISBN 1-932705-48-1 New Dawn Press, New Delhi 2003, revised and enlarged 2005
GUIDE PRICE : £29:99
New Dawn Press, A-59, Okhla Industrial Area,
Phase-II, New Delhi 110020
May also be available from Michael Berry at Rare Books and Berry email@example.com
Charles was Director of Information at the Commonwealth Secretariat from 1979 to 1987 and his encyclopedia is an invaluable guide to everything Sri Lankan.
From Charles Abeysekera (1926 – 98), “a pioneer in the movement to promote democracy…..”, to Zahira College, “the leading Muslim secondary school for boys in Colombo………”, this book omits nothing that matters. There should be a copy on every desk.
AN HISTORICAL RELATION IN CEYLON
GUIDE PRICE : £14:24
An account by John Knox, an English sea captain in the service of the British East India Company. Knox and his father were driven ashore on Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, in a storm in 1659 while on their way home from Fort St. George (now Madras).
They were captured in the name of the King of Kandy near Mooduthora (Mutur), Trincomalee. Knox eventually escaped with one companion after nineteen years of captivity. This book is one of the earliest and most detailed European accounts of life in Ceylon. ^
A DICTIONARY OF SRI LANKAN ENGLISH
Published by Michael Meyler 2007, reprinted 2008
Michael Meyler has lived in Sri Lanka since 1985, teaching at the British Council since 1995, and “eavesdropping” for all that time.
Not only does he, inter alia, describe the meaning of the word, give the pronunciation and its derivation, but he uses Dr. Johnson’s method of giving examples within the lines of novels written in English by Sri Lankan writers.
A tour de force and invaluable for the foreigner spending time in Sri Lanka.
FROM CEYLON TO SRI LANKA
Experiences of a Naturalist Tea Planter
ISBN 978-955-51156-0-5 2008 £14:95
Available from Mark Morgan-Davies, 5 Heritage House, 145 London Road, Twickenham TW1 1EF firstname.lastname@example.org
Max was born in the Residency at Mannar where his father was Government Agent.
From his boyhood and early years as a tea planter, he has valued the natural environment and later led a distinguished career in wildlife conservation in East Africa.
This book is the result of extended journeys made in Sri Lanka over the last few years. Whilst the greater part speaks of wildlife management and warns against damage to the natural environment, it also speaks of people and places he has known and of the island’s myth and history.
This is a wide ranging book, rich with illustrations – and each chapter prefaced by a line of poetry or prose:
And have you known, strange voyager,
Chasing your dreams around the sphere,
Aught that like this the soul can stir –
For where is charm if it’s not here? R. L. Spittel.
THE GLENTHORNE CAT
ISBN 978-1-55468-184-6 Harper Collins 2008
GUIDE PRICE : £7:95
Leopards prowl Christopher’s imagination much as they stalk his books: dark and mysterious symbols of power, beauty and stealth that inhabit the pages of his acclaimed The Man-Eater of Punanai, Sindh Revisited, Journey to the Source of the Nile, Hemingway in Africa and Woolf in Ceylon.
In this compendium of 12 true and fictional stories Christopher has selected the best big cat tales from around the world and the reader is delighted – and transported into the writer’s own adventurous life. Full colour photographs throughout.
RUNNING IN THE FAMILY
ISBN 0-330-28172-0 Victor Gollancz 1983 reprinted as a paperback 1984.
Surely the most delicious book written by a Sri Lankan in the last 30 years. Warm, sensuous and funny, it is nothing less than a prose poem to his elegant, outrageous family and to old Ceylon.
The poems within the greater poetry of the novel are sublime and the photographs from his family album will bring back many a shared memory: sloshing in Nuwara Eliya rain, a steam train teetering round a bend in the hills.
Geoffrey Bawa – the complete works
ISBN 0-500-34187-7 Thames & Hudson 2002
GUIDE PRICE : £45:00
Geoffrey Bawa was an architect of great sensibility whose designs drew on all his country’s rich cultural heritage so that his buildings echo the elegance of their landscape.
Professor David Robson is an architect and was Bawa’s friend for the last 30 years of the latter’s life. With over 500 illustrations, 250 in colour, this is a scholarly and warm account of Bawa’s life and work and a very beautiful book.
modern masterworks of monsoon Asia
ISBN 078-0-500-34238-1 Thames & Hudson 2007 GUIDE PRICE : £39:95
The acclaimed Australian photographer, Richard Powers, compiled 600 elegant images for this book and these, combined with David Robson’s careful research and humane writing, documents the benign influence the great architect had on his region over the latter half of the twentieth century.
Again, an exceedingly beautiful book, and important in these times of climate change: Bawa was the first Asian architect to design buildings through which natural cooling breezes, rather than those via the air conditioner, could flow.
GUIDE PRICE : £5:49
The book skilfully interweaves tender and beautiful love stories through a powerful telling of the desperate and senseless violence and human exploitation that is civil war.
It does not shrink from showing us the horror of bombings and torture, but at no time are the descriptions merely there to shock; she knows exactly when to stop and when less is more. Ultimately though, Mosquito is a story that inspires hope, achieved through moving and unsentimental stories of love. A compelling read, hard to put down.
TEA – A JOURNEY IN TIME
GUIDE PRICE : £28:00 (all royalties are being donated to the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia).
A magnificent coffee table book, with wonderful illustrations and photographs which, unlike so many books of this genre, is very readable. The journey takes the reader from tea camellia in China of the seventeenth century through to the 21st century and the tea bag.
The focus of the story is India and Sri Lanka and sets down brilliantly the pioneers of the industry and the hardships endured in establishing the plantations we see today.