These 18 books about Sri Lanka will give you the full spectrum of Sri Lankan culture, history, and the human condition. Our list includes compelling stories from the Sri Lankan civil war, post-colonial class structures, natural disasters, forbidden love, family tragedies and an unforgettable casts of characters.
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Novels Set in Sri Lanka
Island of a Thousand Mirrors, Nayomi Munaweera
This book explores the fates of two families, one Tamil and the other Sinhala, as they straddle opposite sides of Sri Lanka’s long civil war.
Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje
Anil was born in Sri Lanka but was educated in England and the US. She returns to Sri Lanka as a forensic anthropologist to investigate an organized campaign of murder during the bloody civil war.
Mosquito, Roma Tearne
The main character, Theo Samarajeeva is set adrift by the recent death of his wife, so he leaves London and returns to Sri Lanka. He seeks a new life and love there, which is difficult to achieve against the backdrop of the civil war.
Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, Shyam Selvadurai
During the 1980 monsoon season, fourteen-year-old Amrith’s life is upended with the arrival of his Canadian cousin. Amrith develops feelings for his cousin (who is of the same gender) and the book explores his emotional journey amidst a hot and humid summer in Colombo.
Funny Boy, Shyam Selvadurai
This book about Sri Lanka features a boy coming to the slow realization that he is gay. It’s set in the 1980’s and the boy grows up happily in a huge household, but things get difficult as his self-awareness dawns.
The book is deeply emotional and it has a poignant narrative.
“Yet those Sundays, when I was seven, marked the beginning of my exile from the world I loved. Like a ship that leaves a port for the vast expanse of sea, those much looked forward to days took me away from the safe harbour of childhood towards the precarious waters of adult life.”
A Passage North, Anuk Arudpragasam
When Krishan gets a call that his grandmother has died under unexpected circumstances, he heads north into the war-torn Northern Province for the funeral.
The lyrical prose examines the legacy of Sri Lanka’s long civil war.
The Flower Boy, Karen Roberts
Set in the colonialist period of the ’30s, this book follows the tender friendship of two children who live together but are separated by economic status and class divisions.
River of Ink, Paul M.M. Cooper
Set in the 13th century, Asanka (the poet to the king), lives a cushy and courtly life. When the king is overthrown, the new king gives Asanka the task of translating a holy Sanskrit poem. The delicate nature of the translation puts Asanka in political peril.
The Village in the Jungle, Leonard Woolf
In 1904, Woolf was in the civil service in what was then called Ceylon. This Sri Lankan novel is the first in English literature to be written from an indigenous point of view and it explores how the colonial material world oppressed and indebted the Sri Lankans.
The Tea Planter’s Wife, Dinah Jefferies
This is set in 1920’s Sri Lanka (when it was still called Ceylon). Gwen is a young Englishwoman who joins her new husband on a tea plantation. She’s keeping secrets from him. He’s keeping secrets from her. And it all comes to a devastating head.
“The story builds to an ironic twist and is an enthralling read through all the deception.”
Your Invited, Amanda Jayatissa
Amaya’s old friend invites her to an over-the-top wedding in Sri Lanka. But Amaya is disturbed to learn that the groom is her ex, and she feels that she must do whatever it takes to stop the wedding.
Then, when the bride goes missing, everyone starts looking at Amaya. This is a tight thriller with an obsessive, unreliable narrator, and a whole lotta whodunnit.
Jayatissa also wrote My Sweet Girl, which is set primarily in San Francisco but has scenes in Sri Lanka.
If you like this sort of murdery wedding setting, then we’ve also got a discussion guide for The Guest List, which is set on a stormswept Irish island.
Non-Fiction Books About Sri Lanka
A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks, Rory Spowers
Rory Spowers, a BBC journalist and environmentalist abandons his life in London for an ecologically sustainable life in Sri Lanka. He and his family set out to create a model, organic tea farm and this Sri Lankan book chronicles his (mis)adventures.
Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatje
In the late 70’s Ondaatje returned to his native Sri Lanka to dig into his family’s history. Along the way, he examines the country’s great cultural changes through the lens of his family’s crazy cast of characters.
Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala
In 2004, Deraniyagala’s entire family was tragically swept away in a tsunami. “…In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since.”
The Golden Wave: Culture and Politics after Sri Lanka’s Tsunami Disaster, Michele Ruth Gamburd
In 2004, a massive tsunami devastated the Sri Lankan coastline. Gamburd returns six months later to a village where she had been conducting research to collect stories from the survivors and see how the country was rebuilding.
Sri Lanka Travel Guides and Travelogues
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Paul Theroux
Theroux re-traces his steps from the Great Railway Bazaar and once again rides the rails through eastern Europe and throughout Asia. The book is not only about Sri Lanka but he does travel there. And any book by Theroux will make you want to take an epic rail journey such as the one from Kandy to Ella.
Elephant Complex, John Gimlette
Follow Gimlette on his remarkable encounters with Sri Lanka’s people, modern culture and wildlife. He goes way off the grid and explores all four corners of Sri Lanka, sharing his experiences with descriptive detail and a sharp eye for detail.
Lonely Planet Guide to Sri Lanka
Planning your trip to Sri Lanka is easy with the Lonely Planet guide.
If you are thinking about traveling to Sri Lanka, this guide has links to a ton of trip planning resources and itineraries.
Explore More Armchair Travel
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