I sit outside the room on the terrace watching the forest awaken before me. A pen clasped in my hand with determination above an empty notebook. I write down thoughts and feelings as they spring into my mind, all of which are abstract. I sit somewhat frustrated with my inability to articulate. It’s 2011.
Freshly graduated from a degree in media studies and photography, my brain had been somewhat programmed by the subject of ‘discourse & representation’. I haven’t quite grasped the notion of sitting in stillness with an empty mind. Everything had to mean something, instantly.
The truth was, I felt something I had never felt before, a connection and awakening of spirituality between myself and nature, a journey continuing to this present day which would bring me back to the Samadhi Centre again and again.
While I could describe the literal appearance of the Centre, it is not at this level where it makes the greatest impact. It is somewhere deeper within, a primal ignition of nature and humanity in its purest, simplest form.
The centre is both silent and incredibly loud, the forest constantly chattering in harmonious synchronicity. A perfectly compiled playlist of ‘nature sleep sounds’ without pressing play. Insects making high pitched, vibrational sounds louder than I could imagine them capable of, the energy echoing though my body. It feels like being reborn and experiencing nature for the first time.
My eyes light up in awe of a tree bearing dozens of oversized jackfruit, balancing almost unbelievably on thin branches from the towering tree. Elegant rose pink jambu fruits hang from smaller trees. An abundance of lemongrass and mint in the upstairs zen lounge herb garden, enticing me to rub a small piece between my fingers and admire their invigorating scent.
So many thoughts, ideas and contemplations come to me without force, reminding me of the quote by Albert Einstein. “I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me”. It’s almost as though, through some divine intervention, 3G and 4G doesn’t work everywhere. WiFi is actively placed in just one area. In the early days I struggled to find connection at all, resulting in an internet dance at the top of the pavilion in an attempt to ‘connect to the world’.
The Samadhi Centre is a space for peace. Its name is no marketing ploy. Authenticity radiates from every corner. A place for reflection, healing of the mind, body and soul. The food is nourishing and wholesome. I find myself eating slower, more consciously and less. As the centre is spread on a hill, an amount of energy is needed to walk from the restaurant to the rooms and zen lounge pavilion (with the wifi!) at the top. In pockets of Japanese culture, one stops eating at 70% full. Here it is necessity.
I even spot Hannah the dog in what appears to be a meditative trance. I begin to wonder what a dog’s thoughts may be. Can they appreciate the simplicity of nature too?
The furnishings and decorations are a combination of antiques and natural materials, collaborating in harmony with the vast surroundings of nature. While many hotels in Sri Lanka use antiques to radiate an air of style, they are used differently here. Waruna, the owner, owns an antique shop in Kandy, previously run by his Father. Antiques are an intrinsic part of him.
The Samadhi Centre cannot be wholly explained, it can only be felt, experienced and imprinted on your soul. One who experiences the Samadhi Centre will experience the simple beauty of life itself. It remains my favourite place to be in Sri Lanka.
The Centre offers yoga, authentic Ayurvedic treatments & massages, bathing in the crystal clear stream or nearby lake and visits to a waterfall (where you can swim) 30 minutes on foot from the Centre. They treat employees ethically and use produce from their organic vegetable garden when possible.
I’ve been living in Dehiwala for the past several weeks, previously living just a stone’s throw further from Mount Lavinia in Nugegoda and Pepiliyana for about 2 years. I quite like living in the suburbs of the city as it’s less full on than right in the centre.
When Ranjit isn’t cooking a mouthwatering multitude of Sri Lankan dishes at home and we overcome the temptation of ordering Uber Eats, Mount Lavinia is our go to spot for a casual lunch or dinner as it’s just 15 minutes away.
In all honesty, Mount Lavinia has been a little up and down over the years. I tend to avoid the beach after sunset, especially at weekends, as it can at times attract a slightly dodgy crowd. If you do go, choose a safe establishment and stick to it, don’t walk along the beach after dark, especially as a solo female traveller.
That being said, I feel much safer these days than even a year or so ago, especially visiting with my boyfriend. Try to visit in a small group, otherwise go for lunch instead of dinner.
We have 4 favourite restaurants in Mount Lavinia at the moment which we rotate depending on what we fancy, with the occasional day of trying something new. So if you’re planning a trip to the Southern suburbs of Colombo, why not give one (or all!) a try.
FYI All of the recommendations below are from paying visits with no prior knowledge of the staff anticipating our arrival and the food photos are taken on my iPhone instead of professional camera.
Sugar Beach is one of Mount Lavinia’s newcomers, and a much needed breath of fresh air along the beach strip. With a well crafted food menu and a diverse range of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks, Sugar Beach has no doubt independently raised the bar.
There’s a second chain of Sugar Beach down south in Thalpe as well as Sugar Bistro at Crescat Boulevard and Sugar 41 (great live music on weekends) in the city.
It’s more expensive compared to the rest of the strip but the quality of the food is oh so worth it. The most affordable snack options include hot butter cuttlefish, chickpeas and items from the brunch menu such as dukka (a type of middle eastern spice sprinkled on top) eggs on toast served till 3pm.
Sri Lankan seafood curries including prawn and crab are on offer as well as western favourites with a local twist such as pizza and pasta.
They serve their drinks with bamboo straws instead of plastic. Hallelujah! Any restaurant or hotel that makes a conscious effort to contribute in preserving the beauty of Sri Lanka deserves extra brownie points. They also serve one of the best classic margaritas in Colombo.
Mount Lavinia Hotel
Standing proudly at the tip of Mount Lavinia since 1806, the views from Mount Lavinia Hotel stretch all across coast to Galle Face Green and the construction of the new Port City. While the local buzz isn’t as prominent as the main beach strip, the ambience has an air of luxury without extortionate prices.
They often host Sri Lankan and international lunch/dinner buffets which are great for visitors wishing to taste a handful of dishes in one sitting. As I have quite a small appetite, I tend to opt for the a la carte menu.
While there’s a refreshingly cool AC room, my choice of seating is outside (not poolside as it can quickly elevate into a scene from ‘The Birds’ but with crows!), facing the views of the City with the salty sea breeze.
My highlights from the a la carte include the pumpkin ravioli, roasted tomato soup, fish tacos, local Sri Lankan snack parippu wade with green chilli sambol and chilli cheese toast.
We shared the grilled red snapper with garlic butter sauce, roasted root vegetables and chips (using the leftover sauce on the chips!) yesterday before enjoying the pool for the afternoon which was probably my favourite dish of them all.
Order the lime juice with mint or lion beer to quench your thirst or for a more indulgent meal, order from their wine list.
Request drinks without a straw as they disappointingly still serve plastic straws. They’re advertising their participation in World Earth Day at the moment which is a bit baffling considering how many hundreds of straws they must dispose of in a single day.
Pool access on weekdays is just Rs.1,000 per person or complimentary at weekends with a lunch/dinner buffet which is about Rs.2,500 plus service charge and government taxes which makes it approximately 30% more.
La Rambla Thai Cuisine
Having dined at their flagship restaurant Thai Cuisine Boulevard in Colombo, we decided to head to La Rambla Thai Cuisine in Mount Lavinia for lunch. I often flag hotels & restaurants I would like to visit on Google Maps- this had been flagged for quite a while!
I must be honest, if I hadn’t dined at Thai Cuisine Boulevard before, I wouldn’t be enticed by the entrance of the restaurant. Large photos of unappetising dishes (using on camera flash!) are the first impression, alongside items from the menu clinically written on a whiteboard. A chalkboard would be the way to go.
Don’t let this sway you however, the dining experience is worth it. The quality of Thai food is on point and the food served is worlds apart from the large printed photos outside. We ordered a Tom Yum soup each and a papaya salad to share with a glass of tamarind juice. It was a quick, light lunch but a very pleasant experience.
The staff are professional & attentive and serve the dishes on your plate silver service style.
They don’t serve alcohol and I’m not sure whether they allow you to bring your own bottle. We try to visit on our non drinking days so we aren’t tempted. When I find out I will update this post!
FYI Another plastic straw offender! Request drinks without straws.
Harpo’s is an ever growing local pizza chain in Sri Lanka. Don’t be enticed to visit international chains Dominos or Pizza hut for a pizza fix, the quality at Harpo’s far surpasses.
Their Mount Lavinia restaurant is tucked away under a cool canopy of trees in the vicinity of Colombo Beach Hostel. There’s only outside seating but there are plenty of fans and the canopy is dense enough to block all direct sunlight. It’s quite a beautiful space to be honest.
I ordered a classic margarita pizza and my boyfriend opted for a pepperoni. They arrived piping hot and delicious.
We ordered the pizza pollo (chicken) and pennette con formaggi pasta from the Mount Lavinia branch recently on Uber Eats. The pizza was great as always but the pasta a little bland so we tweaked it to add more flavour.
I recently used an ice cube tray to freeze cubes of extra virgin olive oil with freshly chopped oregano and basil which we melted in a saucepan before adding the pasta.
I hope these recommendations inspire your foodie travels in Mount Lavinia. If you have any additional suggestions or opinions/experiences of your own, do comment below!
I must confess, I love Colombo. The ever growing sense of opportunity, exciting new start ups, the local and the luxury coexisting.
I haven’t always looked at Colombo so fondly however. The traffic, faster paced chaos, the occasional tuk tuk driver aggressively attempting to overcharge. Feeling uncomfortable being stared at.
It’s all too easy to allow negative experiences to imprint an aura of frustration in your mind for the rest of the day. In extreme cases I’ve heard these kind of experiences putting people off visiting Colombo full stop, advising others to do the same.
Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to experience Sri Lanka without a taste of Colombo. It just needs to be approached differently to the rest of the country.
To experience Colombo positively I’ve learnt to do two things.
Number 1. Patience. Don’t rush. Take it slow, be conscious and aware. Don’t let anyone rush you into making decisions and don’t trust people who attempt to rush you. In fact, don’t trust anyone too quickly. Be cautious of appearing fresh faced and vulnerable as some may see it as an opportunity.
Number 2. It is your sole responsibility to retain your sense of peace. Allowing one bad experience to cloud your mindset will only inevitably lead to a domino effect of another.
If you are faced with a challenging experience accept it as a lesson and move on. Work out how you can avoid/ overcome the same happening again. Smile and be positive while retaining astute and you will see how different your experience can be.
Is this easy? Absolutely not. But it’s the only option, tried and tested by yours truly for many years! It works.
Use transport apps. It is the easiest way to retain your peace. Wait for the tuk tuk or car to arrive under a fan or in AC. Don’t wait outside in the heat.
Wear light, comfortable clothes. Dress modestly, especially if you happen upon a temple.
Download the Pick Me and Uber apps. You can hail transport across the city. There’s no worry of being overcharged and you can connect your card to pay hassle free.
Tuk tuks often have very little change, if you hand them a Rs.5,000 note for a Rs.230 journey they likely wont have enough. Otherwise, be prepared with small money. I’ve been on many a wild goose hunt to break down large notes for drivers!
Have a massage at the wonderful Spa Ceylon post flight. Buy some products for loved ones to avoid gifting touristy presents. Shop at Paradise Road. Attend a Sri Lankan cooking class at Aunty’s. Buy spices from local supermarkets to cook for others when you fly back home.
There is so much to enjoy in Colombo. The city is unique, diverse and fascinating. Look beyond the surface, be open to it’s many levels. Take it slow, be patient and avoid expectations.
Research and write a list of everything you may want to do but don’t take the list too literally. Wake up in the morning and see how your body feels.
If you’re tired after a flight don’t go straight into sightseeing mode. Have a massage. Visit a hotel with a beautiful view. Order a nourishing thambili coconut. Relax by the sea or pool and bathe (with shade and suntan lotion!) in that glorious Vitamin D.
Save the days you’re feeling close to 100% for local adventures. Take the commuters train to Mount Lavinia from Colombo Fort station, explore the streets of Pettah, visit Kollupitiya fruit & veg market.
It’s been just over a week since returning back to Sri Lanka after almost 6 months in the UK! I’ve decided to start a new journal section here on Style in Sri Lanka to capture everyday life as well as the guides and reviews I’ve been posting for several years.
The photos here will mainly be taken on my smartphone while the rest of the blog features photos (all my own) taken on my professional camera.
My boyfriend and I are incredibly lucky that both of our jobs fall into the digital nomad realm, he with coding & website developing and myself with travel photography. I’ve never been one for living a ‘normal’ 9-5 life!
Since arriving, we’ve settled into our rented house in Dehiwala. A stone’s throw from a local Sri Venkateshwara Maha Vishnu Moorthy Kovil (what a mouthful!), we often sit out on the balcony and listen to the morning prayers while watching the neon green parakeets squabble in the trees.
Talking of mouthfuls, our butler Ranjit is an incredible cook. Last night he prepared one of my favourite dishes, bitter gourd salad, the crispy salty vegetable which fast disappeared as I took my first, second and third helping.
It’s the kind of food that inspires me to make subtle noises of satisfaction, munching away with a smile on my face as I appreciate the meal wholly in the present. Sri Lankan food does this a lot to me, especially when I eat with my hand.
He also cooked a searfish curry, a meaty white fish in a turmeric infused gravy. We bought searfish from the supermarket a couple of days ago for dinner, the difference between what we had last night to the other is incomparable. We learnt our lesson- seafood is best bought from specialist sellers, not supermarkets!
He cooked prawn curry the day before which was also delicious- I snook in the kitchen to take a photo in the pan! It was a treat after an intense pilates session at Om Shambhala!
I look forward to sharing our latest experiences and tips with you and promise to update the journal as often as possible!
A hybrid of South Sri Lankan cuisine with an Indian flair, food in Jaffna is mouth-wateringly unique for the travelling foodie. Despite this, it’s a surprisingly difficult task mapping out where to begin when searching for the most noteworthy hotspots.
Once a sleepy village morphing into what can only be described as a ghost town post 8pm, Galle Fort is now a buzzing epicentre of the South Coast. Brimming with sights, smells and sounds in every nook, the Fort encompasses the vibrant diversity of the island.
Nowadays Galle Fort is laden with multicultural culinary delights, all conveniently tucked within the magnetic ambience of the historic ramparts. There are charming multicultural eateries: Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Indian and Middle Eastern amongst the many local flavours of Sri Lankan cuisine.
To preempt your foodie ponderings, I’ve tasted my way across Galle Fort to share my personal favourites. While exploring by foot for the first time is best experienced map free, I recommended listing a few names of restaurants at the ready for mealtimes.
I like to flag mine on Google Maps as ‘want to go’, a screenshot of how my map currently looks is above- green flags are places I want to try in the future, hearts are favourites and blue squares are hotels I’ve stayed at.
While there are countless eateries to choose from, time is likely limited. My intention with this foodie guide is to use all my research (with visits to both the good and the not so good!) so I can recommend just a handful of highlights serving the best food in the Fort.
Poonie’s Kitchen $$
63 Pedlar Street (through Tallentire & Mimimango)
Specialising in fresh, locally sourced Sri Lankan produce, Poonie’s Kitchen is best described in two words: mouthwatering nourishment. Founder Jo Eden is a visionary in creating innovative nutrition-packed sustenance and was one of the initiators behind the health conscious food concept ever expanding in recent years across the country.
Poonie’s signature dish is no doubt the delightfully instagrammable ‘salad thali’ (inspired by Indian thalis i.e small bowls of piquant vegetarian curries presented on one larger metal plate) featuring an ensemble of oh so moreish kaleidoscopic salads
With perfectly seasoned (crunchy on the outside creamy in the middle) warm new potatoes, refreshing grated carrot in a light citrus dressing, beetroot raita amongst several others, the thali is topped with a generous portion of avocado (#healthyfats!) and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds for full multisensory goodness.
Her creative fusion is no less than divine, proving (and then some!) that Sri Lankan ingredients aren’t limited to curries alone.
Poonie’s fresh juices and smoothies reign superior in the Fort including local island favourite iced milo with a twist of fresh banana & kithul honey. All drinks are accompanied with a biodegradable straw made from the hollow stem of a local plant, avoiding the near instant sogginess of paper or metallic undertone of stainless steel straws.
52A Church Street
New to the Galle Fort foodie scene, Galley 52 is a real hidden gem in the Fort. A stone’s throw from Pedlar Street running across the middle of the picturesque UNESCO heritage site, the food at Galley 52 incorporates fresh local ingredients with innovative fusion flavours.
We ordered a pescatarian tasting platter in advance- our favourites were the coconut crumbed prawns with a chilli and jaggary sauce, paneer korma and fragrant biriyani also with paneer and a sprinkle of pomegranate.
Don’t forget to order a glass of their signature homemade pink lemonade to beat the heat!
40 Church Street
With a history as rich and exotic as the cuisine, dating back to a bygone era of arab traders, it seems only fitting that a middle eastern restaurant stands proudly in the Fort.
Once the chambers of an attorney-at-law, the restaurant servesa multitude of middle eastern favourites from it’s cosy hub on the ever evolving Church Street.
From a melt in the mouth hearty lamb tagine, zesty hummus with a swirl of olive oil and pinch of chilli powder to spiced grilled aubergine, this is among the best arabic cuisine I’ve tried in Sri Lanka- the #1 being Mama Aida’s in Colombo.
They also serve a selection of Italian pastas which could be a sigh of relief for families with children craving a less exotic taste palette. The fresh seasonal juices go down a treat as does a pot of refreshing mint tea.
A tiny hole in the wall cafe style restaurant which would be easy to miss if it wasn’t so different from the majority of neighbouring restaurants along the strip. Dumplings specialise in (you guessed it!) fresh Chinese dumplings; veggie, fish or meat.
Their eco friendly presentation in purple/red banana flower adds to the quirky charm, embracing the local while proving a photo friendly option in the Instagram era. Nab the two seats parallel to the street and watch the world go by.
6 Sudarmalaya Road
An affordable hostel tucked in a quieter street near the ramparts and buddhist temple, the food at Pilgrims’ restaurant is quite exceptional.
Craving a curry free meal? Order a wood fired pizza to share pronto, Pilgrim’s signature dish by reputation.
Expect (almost!) equally delicious salads too. To be honest, the pizza is so good I can’t really remember other dishes. They have a great curation of wine which is available both by the glass and bottle.
Church Street Social at Fort Bazaar $$$
26 Church Street
A regular in the pages of Conde Nast and other international publications since its inception, the irresistibly chic Fort Bazaar lovingly embraces its restored historic architecture with balmy Moroccan-eque interiors.
Avoid the midday heat in their air conditioned dining room or opt for the romantic street side verandah in the evening. Several cafe-style seats also await in the air conditioned bar, ideal for a quick coffee stop.
Aside from the killer eggs benedict and egg hoppers with creamy cashew nut & pea curry for breakfast, the à la carte menu at Church Street Social offers an array of western, Asian, Middle Eastern and fusion dishes.
They currently don’t have a liquor license. You’re warmly encouraged to bring your own. Neighbouring Galle Fort Hotel is a convenient spot to buy a bottle or head to the nearest wine shop in Galle town via tuk tuk to avoid a hefty markup.
A Minute by Tuk Tuk $$
The Old Dutch Hospital
With the meditative sounds of the sea softly breaking on the rocks below, A Minute by Tuk Tuk offers one of the best views in Galle Fort, extending along the curve of Rumassala’s Jungle Beach and the elegant Japanese Peace Pagoda.
I must confess, these days I’m not adventurous at A Minute by Tuk Tuk. My go to dish ‘batu moju’, a simple, beautifully presented dish of fluffy paratha bread, caramelised spicy aubergine and dhal served in a rustic banana flower. In my opinion it’s the best dish on the menu.
Galle Fort Hotel$$
28 Church Street
Originally a Dutch mansion built in the 18th century and refashioned in the British colonial era by a family of gem merchants, The Galle Fort Hotel proudly embraces its old-world historic charm in both style and service to the present day.
With a verandah rivalling that of Fort Bazaar’s, I opt to sit here for a quick drink stop. My seating preference for dining overlooks the courtyard.
Creamy crab soup, nourishing beetroot soup (served hot or cold on preference), calamari with a zesty mayonnaise side dressing and seafood ceviche are among the highlights of starters.
Authentic Sri Lankan rice and curry is one of the best in the Fort, with the deceivingly modest item served generously in multiple bowls on a portable side table.
Street Food $
And last but not least, I cannot complete a foodie feature of Galle Fort without mentioning the wonders of street food for a pre-dinner appetizer. Keep your eyes peeled for the wade cart which emerges opposite The Bartizan hotel just before sunset on weekends and public holidays.
Serving up freshly cooked deep fried lentils, with or without prawns accompanied by an optional handful of crispy salted chilis and tempered onion. The wade is served in a small makeshift pouch from newspaper. The full local experience!
You may also spot the Cargills/Elephant House ice cream cart along the ramparts in the afternoon or at the main entrance of the Fort. Despite the multitude of Italian Gelato joints along Pedlar Street in the Fort, there are days every now and then when I fancy the no frills option.
If you have a sweet tooth, try the Lankan favourite ‘pani cadju’ ice cream pot which drizzled with kithul honey and sprinkle of cashew nuts.
Other recommended restaurants in Galle Fort:
Cafe Punto (£) Family run Sri Lankan cuisine. 42 Pedlar Street
Pedlars Inn Cafe/Pizzeria (££) Hearty Italian food. 92 Pedlar Street
Fortaleza (££) Cosy outside dining. No 9 Church Cross Street
Isle of Gelato (££) Innovative gelato. 60a Pedlar Street
Sugar Bistro (££) Stylish & modern casual restaurant. The Old Dutch Hospital
Colombo. Sri Lanka’s buzzy commercial capital with a marmite like appeal- a tendency to be either loved or hated. While it’s not the most scenic part of the country, a visit can be far more than just a little bit enjoyable. As with all Cities, research makes a huge difference. The good news is I’ve done it for you- it took a while!
As Sri Lanka continues to skyrocket to the top of every traveler’s bucket list, it is worth noting that there is a more inexpensive and time-efficient way to catch a glimpse into one of the world’s most beautiful islands: the time-honored ritual of reading.
With a literacy rate among the highest in the world (92%), it is no surprise that Sri Lankans are producing incredible literary works at such a fast pace. For years, Sri Lanka has been under the global spotlight for human rights abuses, tragic natural disasters, and a devastating war – now, as the country looks to move forward, authors (both old favorites and a growing list of up-and-comers) are helping the process along by creating literary works to educate, inform, and inspire Sri Lankans and visitors alike.
Below you’ll find a list of SSIL’s top five favorite Sri Lankan books. Some you may recognize, while others may be new to you. Read on to see how this list compares to your own!
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
With a literary career spanning six decades and counting, Michael Ondaatje is one of the most prolific authors of Sri Lankan heritage. Born in Sri Lanka but raised in Canada, he has published several award-winning prose novels and books of poetry. Running in the Family is Ondaatje’s (somewhat) autobiographical account of his return to the island and interactions with his eccentric, complex, and lovable family. The book is comprised of multiple short chapters, some prose and others poems. Despite the memoir’s non-linear structure, Ondaatje’s writing flows in his distinctly dreamy style as he fills in the gaps – parts of his stories that were forgotten or never experienced – with fictionalized descriptions.
Ondaatje’s father remained and later died in Sri Lanka while his son and wife were in Canada, and it becomes clear that much of Ondaatje’s interest in his family revolves around his father. Their connection stands out amidst the stunning imagery and personal ruminations that comprise most of the story. While Running in the Family is a book about Sri Lanka, it is also about family, relationships, and how those two elements transcend boundaries set by time, geography, and more.
Part memoir, part autobiography, part fiction, and part travel literature, Running in the Family refuses to conform or limit itself to one category – not unlike Ondaatje and the quirky cast of characters he assembles. Many readers cite Running in the Family as their first exposure to Sri Lanka, literary or otherwise, and is also a popular pick among high school teachers for their students. At just under 200 pages, it is the perfect introductory novel to Sri Lankan literature, both for those who are familiar with the country and those who are not.
On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman
On Sal Mal Lane tells the story of its titular (and fictional) Sri Lankan street – a quiet, dead-end road – that plays host to a slow-rolling wave of change: a new family moves in, neighborhood children grow up, and the imminent threat of civil war looms. Set between 1979 and 1983, the novel chronicles the lives of Sinhalese, Tamil, and Burgher families: a diverse group whose relations serve as a microcosm for what rippled through the country on a larger scale, all culminating in the explosion of a 26-year civil war. Ru Freeman’s writing is lucid and poetic – the narrator is almost a character itself, whose opinions sometimes slide into the prose.
That said, the children on Sal Mal Lane are the true stars of the story, each one with a unique personality that drives the plot forward. The familiar and charming quirks of island life are offset by intense heartbreak and pockets of emotional and physical violence, a true-to-form glimpse into the world of pre-war Sri Lanka. Freeman also includes several interactive features in the novel, including a character list divided by family, a simple map of Sri Lanka, and a labeled sketch of Sal Mal Lane. There is also a glossary at the back of the book, which may prove helpful as the nearly 400 pages contain ample references to foods, slang terms, and expressions in Sinhala and Tamil.
Wave: A Memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala
Like Running in the Family, Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave is a memoir, but about a much more current and singular topic: the 2004 Asian Tsunami. The December 26, 2004 tsunami, prompted by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean, was the deadliest in recorded history, and is still regarded as one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent years. Deraniyagala lost her husband and two young children to the storm while the family vacationed at a Sri Lankan beach resort; all three were swept away with thousands of others, while she clung to a tree branch that would save her life.
The memoir ties together her life before and after the disaster – the latter of which sees the author expectedly struggling to cope. Some background knowledge on the 2004 disaster may be beneficial before reading the novel in order to fully understand the context of Deraniyagala’s ordeal. Sri Lanka is still recovering and rebuilding from the tsunami, a reality for which Deraniyagala’s memoir is almost a metaphor: she, too, must re-construct her life from the shambles of her past one.
While the writing is beautiful and the grief is palpable, the most striking aspect of this story is that it is true. Readers will feel a heavy sadness upon finishing this book, but also a deep appreciation for the author’s candid honesty that will keep many rooting for her even through her darkest times. Deraniyagala holds nothing back in her recounting of the disaster and its aftermath on her personal life. This is not an easy read, but an important one: a reminder of the tragedy that struck the country, the many lives affected, and the power of love & loss.
Advance warning: this novel contains heavy drinking, self-medication, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai
This book is set in 1920s Ceylon, about 20 years before Sri Lankan independence and about 60 years before the subsequent civil war. Instead of focusing on the two events that have unfortunately defined Sri Lanka’s image for the past few decades – the war and the tsunami – like many modern Sri Lankan novels, Selvadurai’s characters wrestle with the divergence in their own interests and those of the rule-laden societal spheres in which they exist. Annalukshmi is a vibrant young woman who places her professional interests above romantic pursuits (a Sri Lankan Lizzy Bennett, if you will), much to the chagrin of her upper-class family, while her uncle Balendran is forced to confront his own sexuality upon the return of a former flame.
The topic of LGBTQ+ rights is still quite taboo in Sri Lanka today, and to read a novel that discusses it so openly as Cinnamon Gardens was a welcome reprieve from the topic’s typical treatment in the country. The novel feels more relevant today than ever before, as conversations around gender, sexuality, class, and the intersections of those three aspects of one’s identity are becoming more widespread. Feminism, self-discovery, and growth are themes in Cinnamon Gardens, whose main characters are ahead of their time but still allow the reader an intriguing glimpse into the past.
The Road from Elephant Pass by Nihal de Silva
The Road from Elephant Pass could be considered by some to be a modern Sri Lankan classic. It won the 2003 Gratiaen Prize for English creative writing, and has also been used as a text in the Sri Lankan Advanced Level Literature examinations. The story follows a Sinhalese army officer on assignment to pick up a Tamil woman informant near Jaffna – the northernmost part of Sri Lanka with a majority Tamil population – a routine assignment, until the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacks the area.
Captain Wasantha Ratnayake and Kamala Velaithan must trust and depend on one another in order to survive, and thus begins a romance of the most controversial degree: one between a Sinhalese man and a Tamil woman, both fighting for their causes in the thick of a war that destroyed and defined the island they call home. However, the reader should not be fooled; the plot is not that simple, and the characters are dynamic and multifaceted. Without giving too much away, nothing in de Silva’s novel is as it seems, even the ending.
While the focus of the plot is clear, de Silva makes sure to include plenty of rich descriptions of Sri Lanka’s natural landscape, as the Wilpattu Forest serves as the novel’s primary setting. Despite the death and destruction brought by the war, the island is teeming with life – human and otherwise – which de Silva acutely portrays in his writing. Some independent research on Sri Lanka’s civil war prior to reading this novel may be of help – both for context and in providing a more well-informed opinion on the book’s central conflict.
These are just five of the many wonderful novels written by Sri Lankan authors or using Sri Lanka as the setting. Here are a few more:
Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
A Little Dust on the Eyes by Minoli Salgado
The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jeffries
Homesick by Roshi Fernando
Ruins by Rasith Savanadasa
Mosquito by Roma Tearne
Did this list include any of your favorites? Any books it missed? Comment them below!
Author bio: This guide is written by contributing writer Isa Spoerry; a junior studying Social & Cultural Analysis at New York University. Born to a Sri Lankan mother and raised by her parents in the States, she is always looking for new ways to engage with her Sri Lankan heritage and culture.
While Sri Lanka’s reputation as a tropical paradise attracts plenty of surfers and beachgoers alike, travelers – especially the particularly culinary-conscious – would be remiss not to indulge in the island’s diverse and delicious cuisine.
Drawing from its multi-ethnic makeup, rich history, and abundance of fresh, flavorful ingredients, Sri Lanka’s food is as colourful and fascinating as the island itself. Read on to see SISL’s top 10 reasons why Sri Lanka is every foodie’s dream!