A gripping account of an under-reported island' Spectator, Book of the Year
'[A] brilliant new book about an island that has a geography from heaven and a history from hell' Daily Telegraph
'A brilliant work of travel, history and psychological insight . . . astute and sympathetic . . . very funny' Wall Street Journal
Everyone has wanted a piece of paradise
John Gimlette - winner of the Dolman Prize and the Shiva Naipaul Prize for Travel Writing - is the kind of traveller you'd want by your side. Whether hacking a centuries-old path through the jungle, interrogating the surviving members of the Tamil Tigers or observing the stranger social mores of Colombo's city life, he brings his own unique insight to the page: a treasure-chest of research and a gift for wry amusement. Through him, Sri Lanka - all at once dazzling, strange, conflicted and beautiful - comes to life as never before.
Sri Lanka, the seemingly paradisiacal island at the tip of the Indian subcontinent, has a troubling, obscured past that's slowly revealed in this vivid travelogue. Gimlette (Wild Coast) takes in the colorful polyglot metropolis of Colombo, lunching with slum-dwellers and chatting with a former president. He visits ancient ruins and reservoirs as well as modern ruins from the 2004 tsunami; meets farmers who live in trees to evade marauding elephants; chats with boy prostitutes in the island's sex tourism mecca; and strolls the old forts of European colonialists, who left behind townlets that look like Dutch watercolors. Gimlette's writing is in fine form, featuring his usual gorgeous evocations of landscapes, sharp-eyed thumbnails of characters and eccentrics, and an endless font of amusing anecdotes drawn from his own picaresque adventures and from the follies of royals and imperialists. He finds the people friendly, gossipy, and cosmopolitan, but beneath that veneer lies the memory of the country's brutal civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority's Tamil Tigers terrorist group, whose suicide bombers besieged Colombo for years. The appalling violence left a historical shadow that, Gimlette observes, many Sri Lankans hide behind an evasive good cheer. Gimlette's blend of dry wit, entertaining reportage, and perceptive insights makes for another tour de force of travel writing and history, lushly green but edged in darkness. Color photos.