Sri Lanka: travel books to read before you go

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This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Sri Lanka guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

Considering what a colourful and culturally rich destination Sri Lanka is, it’s surprising that more writers haven’t left a trail of ink or keyboard strokes chronicling their experiences in the country.

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje recounts a return to Sri Lanka in the 1970s after growing up here in the ’40s and ’50s, and captures many of the little oddities that make up life in Sri Lanka.

RL Brohier records his travels around Sri Lanka as a British surveyor in the first half of the 20th century in Seeing Ceylon and Discovering Ceylon. Both books capture lots of intriguing historical tidbits that are hard to find elsewhere (even if they’re not 100% accurate, on occasion).

A Village in the Jungle by Leonard Woolf is a sombre account of local life in Hambantota. First published in 1913, it is in the same vein as George Orwell’s Burmese Days.

Woolf in Ceylon by Christopher Ondaatje (older brother of Michael) is part travelogue and part history revisiting Sri Lanka through the writings of Leonard Woolf. It’s packed with excellent photography.

An engaging, insightful story, July, by Karen Roberts, tells of two neighbours – one Sinhalese, one Tamil – growing up together.

Elmo Jayawardena picked up literary prizes with Sam’s Story, the tale of an illiterate village boy working in Colombo. It’s a simple, often lighthearted read that deftly deals with the wider problems of society.

Sindbad in Serendib by Richard Boyle is an eclectic series of essays about the legendary sailor’s voyages around this fabled isle.

More recently Paul Theroux included Sri Lanka in Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, retracing his original railway journey chronicled in The Great Railway Bazaar. As part of his time in Sri Lanka for Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Theroux writes about meeting Arthur C Clarke before the death of the 2001: A Space Odyssey author in 2008.

Published in 2007, A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks by Rory Spowers recounts what happens when a BBC journalist moves his family to Sri Lanka to transform a tea estate into an organic farm. It’s a colourful read, and available at bookshops in Colombo and Kandy.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.