These fifteen books set in Sri Lanka will inspire you to go there. Dive in because this Sri Lanka book list includes compelling stories from their civil war, post-colonial class structures, forbidden love, family tragedies and whacky casts of characters. If you are thinking of traveling to Sri Lanka, this list also provides trip planning resources and suggestions for Sri Lanka guide books and travelogues.
(Most of the links below are affiliate links. This means that if you chose to purchase, I’ll get a small commission.)
Expand your literary borders this year and take the Travel Reading List challenge. Learn more here.
Books Set in Sri Lanka
Contemporary Sri Lankan Fiction
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.
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.
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.
Sri Lankan Books with Historical & Colonial Settings
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 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
From Amazon, “…set in 1920s Ceylon, about a young Englishwoman who marries a charming tea plantation owner and widower, only to discover he’s keeping terrible secrets about his past, including what happened to his first wife, that lead to devastating consequences.”
Sri Lankan Biographies & Non-Fiction
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 the 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 Trip Planning Resources
Travel Blog Resources
If you are thinking of traveling to Sri Lanka, get started with these resources.
- A complete Sri Lanka travel guide including travel tips and itinerary suggestions from my own website and other bloggers.
- Top cultural and UNESCO sites in Sri Lanka.
- Top wildlife safari spots in Sri Lanka.
- Luxury (but affordable) hotels in Sri Lanka.
- Learn about a wildlife conservation program for the fishing cats of Colombo.
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.
Lonely Planet Guide to Sri Lanka
Planning your trip to Sri Lanka is easy with the Lonely Planet guide.
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