The best Sri Lanka books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Sri Lanka and why they recommend each book.

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Trouble in Nuala

By Harriet Dorothy Steel,

Book cover of Trouble in Nuala

I love the combination of a historical mystery with a little-known location, but this book also charmed me with a spare but fluid writing style. Ceylon in the 1930s under British rule (today Ceylon is the independent nation of Sri Lanka) sets the first book in the addictive Inspector Shanti de Silva mystery series in a riveting yet mostly overlooked moment in history. Add a superbly written cast of characters and set them at odds against each other, and I’m hooked on the whole series.

De Silva is the head of a 3-person police force in the smallish city of Nuala where he must straddle the divide between the local population and his British bosses. Reports of a cruel tea plantation owner lead to a missing worker and the owner’s suspicious debt. A dubious business associate, a frazzled wife, and a chatty mynah bird all combine to add layers of…


Who am I?

I’ve turned lessons from a 30-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency into crime fiction loaded with intrigue and deception. My Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series pits the first female police detective in Acapulco against Mexico's drug cartels, government corruption, and social inequality. Readers will love Detective Cruz’s complex plots, fast action, and exotic location. I’m originally from upstate New York, the setting for the upcoming Galliano Club thriller series. My family tree includes a mayor, a Mensa genius, and the first homicide in the state of Connecticut with an automatic weapon. After killing two people, including his wife, my great-grandfather eluded a state-wide manhunt. He was never brought to justice.


I wrote...

Cliff Diver: An Emilia Cruz Novel

By Carmen Amato,

Book cover of Cliff Diver: An Emilia Cruz Novel

What is my book about?

In the explosive start to the series that puts the highs and lows in Mexico on full display, Emilia Cruz is the first female police detective in the iconic Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco, Mexico. Every day for her is a cocktail of drug cartel danger, official corruption, and Mexican machismo

When Emilia’s lieutenant is murdered, she is forced to lead the investigation. Soon the man’s sordid sex life, money laundering, and involvement in a kidnapping double-cross combine to create an ugly mess no one wants exposed, including Acapulco’s ambitious mayor and the powerful head of the police union. Clearly, the high-profile murder case could wreck Emilia’s career and that’s why she got stuck with it. Yet as a rival detective emerges as the prime suspect, keeping her job could be the least of her worries.

Wave

By Sonali Deraniyagala,

Book cover of Wave

Wave is an extraordinary and brutally honest memoir about the 2004 tsunami that claimed the lives of an estimated 230,000 people, including the author’s parents, husband, and two sons. All of this happens in the book’s first devastating chapter. Deraniyagala uses the rest of the memoir to move back and forward in time. In the aftermath of the tsunami, she doesn’t want to live, but through remembering the past—the happy life she lived with her family—she is able to face a grief almost beyond words. No matter the loss—in my case, my mother to COVID in 2021—Wave reminds us that we all suffer and that we are capable of great resilience.


Who am I?

My most recent book, If There Are Any Heavens, tells the story of my mother’s death from COVID-19 at the peak of the pandemic in America. As I wrote this book, I returned to some of the most powerful books I had read about grief. Because my book is a memoir in verse, I found myself reading mostly memoirs and poetry. My previous books are all fiction—three novels and a short story collection. No matter the book or genre, I’m attuned to the sonic qualities of the writing. My favorite writing, the kind I aspire to, strives for the emotional immediacy of music.


I wrote...

If There Are Any Heavens: A Memoir

By Nicholas Montemarano,

Book cover of If There Are Any Heavens: A Memoir

What is my book about?

On January 6, 2021, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the U.S. Capitol is under attack, Nicholas Montemarano drives 600 miles to see his mother, who is hospitalized with COVID pneumonia and in a critical state. For 10 days he lives in a hotel minutes from the hospital, alternating between hope and helplessness. This is the story of those ten days.

Written with visceral urgency in the earliest days of grief, If There Are Any Heavens resists categorization: it is a memoir, a poem, a mournful but loving song. It is an almost real-time account of the uncertainty and sorrow brought on by this pandemic. It is also, finally, a devastating homage to a family’s love in a time of great loss.

The Ramayana

By Valmiki, Arshia Sattar (translator),

Book cover of The Ramayana

The scale of this ancient Indian epic is off the charts, fusing Hindu iconography with story beats of startling familiarity. Monkeys build a bridge between India and Sri Lanka, an army of demons takes on the vanguard of the gods and the villain is felled by a celestial bow. An influence on storytelling down the ages – notably Star Wars – it’s a tale as exciting as it is charming, with a surprisingly downbeat coda, as Queen Sita discovers that being rescued by her divine husband isn’t enough to survive the prejudices of her age.

Which version to read? Arshia Sattar’s 1996 translation is available in Penguin translation. I can’t testify to its accuracy, but it’s a magnificent read.


Who am I?

Nicholas Jubber has written for the Guardian, Irish Times and Telegraph, amongst other publications. He has won the Dolman Travel Book Award, for which he has been shortlisted three times, and his books have been picked by National Geographic, Wanderlust and the New York Times, amongst other publications, for their books of the year.


I wrote...

Epic Continent: Adventures in the Great Stories of Europe

By Nicholas Jubber,

Book cover of Epic Continent: Adventures in the Great Stories of Europe

What is my book about?

An account of a journey from Anatolia to Iceland in the wake of Europe’s most enduring epic tales, Epic Continent explores the connections between Europe’s past and present, tramping off the beaten track to Balkan monasteries, a Dark Age battle-site in the Pyrenees, or Scandinavian rock-carvings, and describing encounters with artists, war veterans and investigative reporters whose lives have been entangled with the continent’s ancient epic stories

Homo Aestheticus

By Ellen Dissanayake,

Book cover of Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why

Ellen Dissanayake was a primary force in the modern era to bring evolution into the conversation of why we have and often revere art. For her, art promotes social cohesion in small groups and making objects special through ritual lies at the root of making art. If you want to learn about how evolution might have promoted the creation of art, this book is the place to start.


Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by beauty and art. As a child growing up in India, I sketched frequently. Later, I became obsessed with photography. In 1999, I moved from my first academic job to join the newly forming Center of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. The move was an opportunity to rethink my research program. In addition to studying spatial cognition, attention, and language, I decided to investigate the biological basis of aesthetic experiences. At the time there was virtually no scholarship in the neuroscience of aesthetics. It has been an exciting journey to watch this field grow. And, it has been exhilarating to start the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics, the first research center of its kind in the US.


I wrote...

The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art

By Anjan Chatterjee,

Book cover of The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art

What is my book about?

The Aesthetic Brain takes the reader on a wide-ranging journey through the world of beauty, pleasure, and art. Chatterjee uses neuroscience to probe how an aesthetic sense is etched in our minds and evolutionary psychology to explain why aesthetic concerns are central to our lives. He addresses fundamental questions: What is beauty? Is beauty universal? How is beauty related to pleasure? What is art? Should art be beautiful? Do we have an instinct for art?

Chatterjee starts by probing the reasons that we find people, places, and even numbers beautiful. At the root of beauty, he finds, is pleasure. He then examines our pleasures by dissecting why we like and why we want food, sex, and money and how these rewards relate to aesthetic encounters. His ruminations on beauty and pleasure prepare him and the reader to face art. 

The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912

By Thomas A. Tweed,

Book cover of The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent

I love this warm-hearted and rich account of the first Americans to become Buddhist: the romantics who fell in love with Asian cultures, the rationalists who thought of Buddhism as a science or philosophy of human existence, and the esotericists who sought magical powers and powerful initiations. From Lafcadio Hearn’s celebration of “old Japan” to Countess Canavarro who set up a nun’s order in Sri Lanka, via Theosophists, vegetarians, and atheists, this book is a fantastic collection of people’s lives which were both transformed by meeting Buddhism and yet remained distinctively American even in their new form.   


Who am I?

I’ve been a street musician, set up kindergartens, worked in special needs education, and run wood-fired showers in a field for meditation retreats. I’m also associate professor of sociology at the National University of Ireland Maynooth. I became a Buddhist partly out of interest in a very different culture and started wondering how Buddhism got from Asia to the West. I think about this through my own experience of teaching meditation, being an activist for 35 years, living in five countries, and learning ten languages: what do you have to do to make an idea come alive in a different culture? 


I wrote...

The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk Who Faced Down the British Empire

By Alicia Turner, Laurence Cox, Brian Bocking

Book cover of The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk Who Faced Down the British Empire

What is my book about?

This book tells the story of an Irish emigrant who became a sailor, hoboed his way across the US, and became a Buddhist monk and anti-colonial activist in Asia, active in today’s Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, China, and Australia. U Dhammaloka (born Laurence Carroll, 1856-1914) defied the British Empire and missionary Christianity in defence of local culture. He had 5 different aliases, was tried for sedition, put under police and intelligence surveillance, faked his own death, and ultimately disappeared. Brian Bocking, Alicia Turner, and I spent ten years piecing together this dramatic and mysterious life, which rewrites the story of how Buddhism became a modern global religion.

The Girl Who Stole an Elephant

By Nizrana Farook,

Book cover of The Girl Who Stole an Elephant

Stolen jewels. A girl Robin Hood figure. Friendship. And an escape into the jungle with an elephant. Full of adventure and heart, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant provides a window into the lush setting of ancient Sri Lanka, and carried me along with its fast pace. Nizrana Farook’s descriptions are teeming with sensory details, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.


Who am I?

There’s something truly magical about our ability to perceive the world through our senses. Our abilities to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch are like superpowers that we take for granted. Because of many amazing sensory experiences—like viewing the world from the top of a tower, feeling the pull of ocean waves at my feet, comparing flavors within chocolate, hearing wood thrushes in the forest—I find myself drawn to the beauty that our senses add to life. So, I’ve written two middle-grade novels (The Splintered Light and The Other Side of Luck) with an eye (and an ear) on sensory perception. I hope you enjoy these books!


I wrote...

The Splintered Light

By Ginger Johnson,

Book cover of The Splintered Light

What is my book about?

The day Ishmael sees color for the first time, his life changes forever. This unique ability leads him to the Hall of Hue, one of seven creative workshops at a mysterious, magical place called the Commons. As a novice Color Keeper, Ishmael begins his training: helping to create landscapes that become glorious new worlds he and his friends shape and build, filling them with color, scent, sound, and taste. But when the rules of creation are threatened and the bonds of brotherhood are tested, Ishmael must learn when to let go of the past, when to trust the path ahead, and when to believe in himself. Original and gorgeously crafted, this middle-grade fantasy will enliven readers’ every sense. 

Where the Gods Dwell

By Manu S. Pillai,

Book cover of Where the Gods Dwell: Thirteen Temples and Their (Hi)stories

If you already know a lot about India and are interested in an unusual insight into the role of temples in the history, culture, architecture, and myths of the subcontinent, then this is for you. It will also introduce you to thirteen writers who include journalists, academics, and authors. Each one was asked to write about one temple, recounting its origins and the mythology and history surrounding it. It’s beautifully illustrated by Mistunee Choudhury. You can enhance the experience by googling the locations. It has introduced me to some must-see places to go on my want to visit list. I visited the unforgettable temples of Khajuraho and they appear in my own book.


Who am I?

Thanks to access to a good community library, I developed an interest in history from the age of seven. My interest in India grew when I married Indian-born Atam Vetta. After teaching, I set up a business and was director of Oxford Antiques Centre. In 1998, while chair of the Thames Valley Art and Antique Dealers Association, I was invited to become the art and antiques writer for The Oxford Times. That was how my freelance writing career began but since 2016 I have concentrated on writing fiction and poetry but make occasional contributions to The Madras Courier.


I wrote...

Sculpting the Elephant

By Sylvia Vetta,

Book cover of Sculpting the Elephant

What is my book about?

The fast-moving contemporary story is half set in Oxford and half in India (mostly on the Buddhist trail) and is embroiled in the lives and ambitions of impoverished Oxford artist Harry King and Indian historian Ramma Gupta. But there is a historical subplot. It grew out of a question I asked myself. How was it possible for Ashoka, who is responsible for the world’s third-largest religion to have been forgotten for over a thousand years? His inspirational story demonstrates that it is possible for a person to change. His transformation from a brutal warlord to a pacifist is an example that the world needs to embrace if human life is to survive. Inspired by the Dalai Lama, I hope that, despite some of the serious subjects addressed in Sculpting the Elephant, it is imbued with humour.

I Give You My Life

By Ayya Khema,

Book cover of I Give You My Life: The Autobiography of a Western Buddhist Nun

This is the life story of Ayya Khema (1923-1997), who was the first Western woman to be ordained a Theravadin Buddhist nun. In this book, she recounts her rich and adventurous life. Born in Germany to Jewish parents before WWII, she joined a children's transport group going to England after the Kristal Nacht. After a year she met up with her parents in Shanghai, where the Japanese invasion forced them to give up their lives and live in a ghetto. From there on, her life takes many turns. She marries, has children, travels all over, and eventually steps onto the spiritual path in later life. She ordains as a Buddhist nun, initiates Nun's Island, a Buddhist monastery in Sri Lanka, and eventually comes back to Germany to create Buddha Haus. Ven. Ayya Khema writes more ‘from a distance,' and although we do not always get a glimpse into her inner…


Who am I?

I write novels that enthrall, enrich, and enliven you. I've been student of Buddhism for more than thirty years and spend long periods of time with the most generous Tibetan Buddhist nuns in their monasteries in the remote Himalayas, relishing the solitude and contemplative life. Their tales of resilience are an enormous inspiration to me. The biographies of Western Buddhist women I’ve selected are everything I look for in ‘great writing’. The stories are engaging and entertaining, but also make us pause and reflect to appreciate the astonishing opportunities of the privileged times we live in, and challenge us once again to be and do better—every moment of this precious life.


I wrote...

A Pilgrim's Heart

By Elles Lohuis,

Book cover of A Pilgrim's Heart

What is my book about?

We follow Nordun on her crusade across the rooftop of the world, to Lhasa, the lands of Gods, through the turbulent times of thirteenth-century Tibet, where she’s determined to stand by her Buddhist beliefs and prevent the killing ordered by her family. Together with Karma, her lover and kindred spirit—but also a merciless warrior who believes compassion hold no place in a family’s blood feud—she crosses raging rivers, traverses vast grasslands, and conquers the mighty mountain ranges of the Cho-La.

But when faced with the inevitable, will Nordun risk losing her love, and her life, to save the man who murdered her mother? A Pilgrim’s Heart is a heartfelt heroine's journey, sprinkled with nuggets of timeless Buddhist wisdom for all to enjoy.

Tea

By Kevin Gascoyne, François Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais, Hugo Americi

Book cover of Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties

I dip into this must-have book all the time – for pleasure but also to learn and check facts. The four authors own the wonderful tea store, Camellia Sinensis in Montreal, Canada. They are extremely experienced in tasting and selecting teas from around the world for their business and just love sharing their infectious passion for tea and their extensive knowledge of the growing regions, growers, and manufacturers. As well as discussing the most important tea origins, they highlight some of the personalities and industry specialists they have met on their tea journey and whose insights help us understand the day-to-day work of tea gardens and factories. The book also includes invaluable advice on brewing and tasting tea, and the section on tea and gastronomy offers some absolutely stunning recipes for cooking with tea.


Who am I?

I fell into the world of tea by chance in the 1980s when I gave up a career in higher education to open a 1930s style tearoom in southwest London. I grew up in the 1950s in a typical British family that drank tea throughout the day but little did I know, as I baked endless supplies of scones and cakes for the tearoom at 4 am every day, that I would end up writing books and magazine articles, editing a tea magazine for the UK Tea Council, speaking at world tea conferences, training staff in hotels, travelling to almost every major tea producing country, and eventually working today as Director of Studies at the UK Tea Academy.


I wrote...

Jane Pettigrew's World of Tea: Discovering Producing Regions and Their Teas

By Jane Pettigrew,

Book cover of Jane Pettigrew's World of Tea: Discovering Producing Regions and Their Teas

What is my book about?

Teas are produced today in more than 65 countries, including the UK, Europe, Oceania, and North America, as well as better known regions such as India, China, Japan, Sri Lanka and East Africa. However, few people ever get to taste the high quality teas from any of those countries but stick instead to cheaper poorer quality teabag blends.

My book explores every single one of the world’s tea producing regions, giving details of each country’s tea history, the area planted with tea, the terrain, altitudes, producing seasons, tea types, and flavour profiles. With colourful maps highlighting the important tea areas, and beautiful colour photographs of the places, people, and tea rituals of the world, the book takes the reader on a fascinating journey and opens their eyes to the magic of tea and opportunities for amazing taste experiences for anyone who dares to try something different.

The Lotus and the Artichoke

By Justin Moore,

Book cover of The Lotus and the Artichoke: Vegan Recipes from World Adventures

Justin Moore, the creator of the Lotus and the Artichoke website and recipe book series, has spent years traveling the globe and joining locals in their kitchens, learning directly from them how to prepare their traditional dishes. All in vegan versions, of course!

This is the book that kicked off the series of cookbooks back in 2012, and it offers a great overview of delicious, authentic vegan dishes from around the world. If you’re interested in a specific cuisine, you may also want to check out Justin’s vegan recipe books on Mexican, Sri Lankan, Malaysian, Indian and Ethiopian cuisines.

He’s currently crowdfunding an update to the original book too, so keep an eye out for it when it hits the shelves!


Who am I?

I’ve been living a semi-nomadic lifestyle and traveling the globe for all my adult life, and travel has truly shaped who I am. In 2014, when I learned about the many advantages of a vegan lifestyle for my health, the planet, and the animals, I felt compelled to make the change. There was one thing holding me back, though, which was the fear that being vegan would ruin travel. Fortunately, I gave it a trial run anyway during a three-week trip to Greece and discovered that being vegan actually made traveling even more fun! Ever since, I’ve been sharing my global vegan discoveries on my website, the Nomadic Vegan.


I wrote...

Veggie Planet: Uncover the Vegan Treasures Hiding in Your Favorite World Cuisines

By Wendy Werneth,

Book cover of Veggie Planet: Uncover the Vegan Treasures Hiding in Your Favorite World Cuisines

What is my book about?

Discover the many plant-based dishes that are hiding in plain sight in the world’s best-loved cuisines. Intrepid globetrotter and vegan travel expert Wendy Werneth has explored 117 countries on 7 continents, sampling countless local specialties along the way. In Veggie Planet, she highlights the many naturally vegan dishes in 11 of the world's most famous cuisines and shows you just how vegan-friendly they really are. 

But Veggie Planet is more than just an international travel guide for people interested in the vegan lifestyle. Since the cuisines it describes are widely available (think Chinese, Italian, Indian, etc.), Veggie Planet is a godsend not only for when you’re traveling but also for when you want to enjoy a delicious vegan meal while eating out, even in your own hometown.

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