10 Books You Should Read Before Travelling to Sri Lanka

Classic Ceylon Illustration © Sage Ross / Flickr
Classic Ceylon Illustration © Sage Ross / Flickr
Photo of Orana Velarde
Sri Lanka Hub Writer29 November 2017

Some travelers are into history and culture, reading all they can about a place before they go. Reading books to get an idea of the country is a great way to get accustomed before arriving. It minimizes culture shock so things will feel a little bit familiar and getting around will be simpler. Here’s our guide to the books to read before traveling to Sri Lanka.

From historic novels to contemporary literature, there is plenty to read about Sri Lanka. Authors Michael Ondaatje, Shyam Selvadurai, Carl Muler and Ashok Ferrey are just some of those who bring the country to life in their books. Discover the teardrop island from the pages of a novel before getting on the plane. If you are coming for a while, you can always go to the Barefoot Gift Shop and buy the books there.

Running in the Family

From the author of The English Patient, we have one of the greatest Sri Lankan novels of all time. In Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatje tells the story of man returning to his roots in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s. This is a great family memoir of a baroque Dutch-Ceylonese family.

The story of an exotic family in Sri Lanka is a must read | © Amazon

This Divided Island – Stories from the Sri Lankan War

Samanth Subramanian is a journalist from New Delhi. His book, This Divided Island is a great insight into the Sri Lankan War. The island was stuck in a war for many years, and it was just recently that it ended. Understanding the war is a wonderful way to get to know the people, and will give you knowledge very little visitors have.

Stories from the Sri Lankan War | © Amazon

Cinnamon and Elephants

For 150 years, the Dutch were a big part of Sri Lankan history. Cinnamon and Elephants is a collection of images and illustrations from the Rijksmuseum collection that tell the story of all that happened during the Dutch colonial rule in Sri Lanka. The VOC, also known as the Dutch East India company has influenced much of the history of Sri Lanka and reading about it will help visitors understand a lot of what they see and experience here.

Dutch colonial rule is an important part of Sri Lankan history | © Amazon

Woolf in Ceylon

British political activist and author Leonard Woolf spent eight years in Sri Lanka between 1904 and 1912. In Woolf in Ceylon, author Christopher Ondaatje tells the story of Leonard’s life and his time in the Sri Lankan jungle. Tales of travels to the north of Sri Lanka in the midst of the Tamil crisis are particularly memorable.

A journey in the footsteps of Leonard Woolf | © Amazon

A Village in the Jungle

Leonard Woolf started writing a series of books about the time he spent in Sri Lanka. A Village in the Jungle tells the story of the hardships and mysteries of life in the tropics. His period in Sri Lanka gave Woolf first-hand insight into what it’s like to live in the deep, hot, intense jungle. This is one of the all-time favorite Sri Lankan novels.

The Village in the Jungle | © Amazon

The Jam Fruit Tree

The Burghers are the mixed descendants of Sri Lankans and foreigners like Dutch, Portuguese and British who still inhabit the island in their own special features and cooking style. The Jam Fruit Tree, written by Carl Muller, a Burgher himself, is a story of family culture and a people that refuse to disappear.

The story of the Burghers in Sri Lanka | © Amazon

Cinnamon Gardens

Shyam Selvadurai is one of the favorite contemporary writers from Sri Lanka. He has lived in Canada since he was a boy and his returns to Colombo inspire the stories in his books. Cinnamon Gardens takes place in the neighborhood of the same name during the 1920s. A story of family and history deep in the heart of Colombo.

Ceylon in the 1920s is a great place to experience | © Amazon


Of the newest books published about Sri Lanka, Serendipity is one of the most colorful and vibrant. Ashok Ferrey tells contemporary stories of modern Sri Lanka. Stories of Sri Lankans that come back to the island after years abroad are a dime a dozen, but not all are as wonderful as the ones told by Ferrey.

Serendipity, a story of reliving Sri Lanka | © Amazon

Island of a Thousand Mirrors

Another talented contemporary Sri Lankan writer is Nayomi Munaweera. Her book, Island of a Thousand Mirrors tells the story of a Sinhala girl and a Tamil girl that surpass the conflict of their cultures. This is a young view of the Sri Lankan conflict and a good one at that.

Friendship through hardship | © Amazon

The Ramayana

The legend of The Ramayana is an epic tale of Rama, who traveled to the teardrop island off the coast of southern India to save his princess bride, Sita. A purely magical story that is part of the culture, the history and souls of the Sri Lankan people.

The Ramayana is a must read for anyone interested in myths and cultural history | © Amazon

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