Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Books to read in Sri Lanka – Sakura’s List

When I told Sakura of Chasing Bawa that I was travelling to Sri Lanka she kindly came up with a list of books and authors of Sri Lankan origin to read or look out for while on holiday. I thought I would share it with my fellow book-lovers!

I plan to buy Anil’s Ghost, by Michael Ondaatje (who is better known for The English Patient) and while I was visiting the Barefoot Bookshop in Columbo I also picked up a copy of The Road from Elephant Pass which I am looking forward to reading.

Thanks again to Sakura for the recommendations – they gave me a good excuse (not that I really need one…), to go book-shopping while holiday. She has written reviews of quite a few of these books over at her blog so do pop over and take a look.

Do you, like me, enjoy reading books about the country you are travelling to when you go on holiday?

Brixton Beach, by Roma Tearne

Back in Spring, when I was planning my holiday I did a bit of a scout around for books set in Sri Lanka, but struggled to find a good selection. Sakura of Chasing Bawa has since given me a whole host of Sri Lanka book recommendations (which I’ll be sharing in case anyone is interested). Left to my own investigations I bought a copy  of Brixton Beach, by Roma Tearne.

Brixton Beach kicks off with a scene of high drama – the July 7th bombings in London in 2005, before taking the reader back in time to 1970’s Sri-Lanka. There we meet a little girl – Alice Fonseka, who lives with her Singhalese mother, Tamil father and her grandparents in an idyllic sea-side setting. As the threat of civil war looms, her father decides to move the family to London, where Alice grows up, coming to terms with life in a different world.

I have mixed feelings about Brixton Beach. I definitely found it a bit of a slow book to get into. From the blurb on the jacket, I was expecting the story to be more focused on the character’s experiences of adjusting to London, so felt for the first couple of hundred pages that I was waiting for the family to leave, when in fact almost half of the book is about their life in Sri Lanka. Then, when I reached the second half of the story I felt that it was too rushed. The time period covered is significant – right through from Alice’s experiences at school, to marriage, motherhood and later life. While Alice is a likeable character, I never felt as if I really understood her motivations or got inside her head which meant that while there were many events in the novel that should have been very moving, I actually felt quite detached from events. Feeling distant from the character also meant that the important issues that Tearne tried to tackle – cultural identity and mixed-race marriage didn’t quite hit home.

I actually far preferred the portion of the book set in Sri Lanka. I savoured the descriptions of the landscape and people as well as the references to the different places that I have visit. Tearne obviously has a passion for her home-country, and this was evident in her beautiful descriptions. The passages that really stood out to me were those that vividly illustrated the many changing moods of the sea – which, because Sri Lanka is an island is so much a part of daily life. I loved the following two lines which I especially enjoyed because of the way in which Tearne evokes the sea’s beauty with such brevity:

“Outside, the sea pleated itself into acquiescent folds.” Page 177.

“The sea was like crushed sapphires.” Page 199.

Sri Lanka is known for its beautiful sapphires, so the last metaphor has particular significance.

I also really enjoyed Alice’s relationship with her grandfather – a painter who adores her and inspires her to be creative. The most tender interactions were between these two characters, and even later in life her grandfather continues to influence Alice. Sadly, I found her mother Sita to be an unsympathetic character. Sita leads a sad and troubled life, but somehow I couldn’t relate to her. I felt even less empathy for her father who came across as cold-hearted and oftentimes a bit thick in the head. Many of the male characters seemed two-dimensional to me. This might seem a little hard, but I felt as if I was reading an autobiography of someone who was quite self involved and couldn’t really understand the thoughts and motivations of others and therefore didn’t depict them convincingly as real people. This really let the book down for me, as at times I was really carried away by Tearne’s use of language. I could almost feel the tropical breeze on my skin and be lulled into a daydream imagining the sea that she describes.

Brixton Beach paints beautiful images of Sri Lanka, but unfortunately didn’t quite hit the spot for me.

My rating:

5 out of 10.

Have you read Brixton Beach or other books by Roma Tearne?

Back from holiday!

I’m back from my holiday, feeling rested and happy, if slightly pink around the nose from making the most of the sunshine on my last day.

What a wonderful couple of weeks. My boyfriend and I stayed first in Columbo, Sri Lanka where my friend was getting married at the beautiful Galle Face hotel, right on the sea front. It’s a colonial-style building which I can just imagine being the setting for an Agatha Christie mystery. Sitting on the veranda, looking past swaying palm trees to the shimmering sea, I enjoyed sipping a gin and tonic or a king coconut and crunching on hot, salted cashew nuts. When the wind picks up and the sea becomes stormy, the atmosphere is a little spooky, like something Daphne DuMaurier would pen a story about.

Galle Face Hotel

And of course, being a bookaholic, I checked the hotel’s ‘Distinguished Overseas Visitors’ list for authors and noticed a couple of literary types – Edward Lear and George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion is one of my favourite plays!).

I also visited the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnewela for the second time. When I went to Sri Lanka a couple of years back it was one of my favourite experiences. I missed out a bit this time as I was feeling a slightly unwell, but still had a fab view of the elephants washing themselves and playing in the river. It never ceases to amaze me how sociable these animals are and how tender they are with the little elephants.

Elephant orphanage Pinnewela, Sri Lanka

Elephant orphanage Pinnewela, Sri Lanka

On our last evening I took a walk with my boyfriend along the promenade outside the hotel where people were flying colourful kites, eating from the food stalls and school kids were chasing waves.

Galle Face Promenade

Beach outside Galle Face

The perfect setting for an elegant wedding and an exotic break away from the day to day of London life.

Our second week was spent in Phuket, Thailand. We mostly enjoying eating, lolling around at our hotel, running out to the beach in between tropical rain showers and I caught up on my reading!

Alan walking on the beach at Phuket, Thailand

View of the sea, Phuket, Thailand.

Coconut, squid and red curry, Phuket, Thailand.

Ah… back to the real world!

I’ll be posting reviews of my holiday reads, once I get settled back into the swing of the things. In the meantime, anyone want to hazard a guess at how many books I finished reading on my trip?

On holiday!

After lots of fussing, putting things in and taking things out of my suitcase (and ending up with what I suspect may be too many books), I am finally ready to set off for my holiday. I will spend the first week in Columbo, Sri Lanka for a friend’s wedding and then I’ll be hitting the beach for the second week in Phuket, Thailand.

Palm trees galore – yippee!

A picture from our last visit to Sri Lanka, taken by the lovely boyfriend.

It’ll be a bit quiet here at Novel Insights for a couple of weeks, but I’ll be back with reviews of all my holiday reads and probably a picture or three.

See you then! x