Books to Read Before Going to Sri Lanka

Water in My Grave book

COVID-19 Update:

Sri Lanka is expected to re-open to international tourism in August 2020. For more information about the COVID-19 protocols, click here.


Reading literature from the country you are going to visit is a good starting point to immerse yourself into the culture and can even help you to plan other aspects of your trip. Since we knew little about Sri Lanka, we found a few books to read other than the usual travel guides.

Here are our recommendations to help you learn more about Sri Lanka:

Water in My Grave and other Horror Stories from Sri Lanka by Chandrika Gadiewasam and Nadeesha Paulis:

Water in My Grave book
Water in My Grave book

When we were in Colombo, we set out on a mission to find “Water in My Grave”, a collection of Sri Lankan horror stories written by Nadeesha Paulis and her mom, Chandrika Gadiewasam. I found out about this book through my friend Melinda who met Nadeesha in Dharmsala India during her travels and posted about the book on IG stories. Melinda offered to buy me a copy of the book but since we were going to be in Colombo, we decided to visit local bookstores to find it and we did 5 bookstores later. I began reading the book immediately and it helped me to understand certain aspects of Sri Lankan culture and folklore, especially superstitions expressed by local people we met and spoke to. After reading , I have no doubts the hotel we stayed at in Colombo is haunted! Written in English, the book also uses local terms which you can learn more about in the glossary section. This book also reminded me that while some things get lost in translation, ghost stories are universal and I now know that graveyard caretakers avoid fried food to prevent “pretas” coming after them. If you would like a copy of this book, please contact me.  

The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam:

The main character in the story is Dinesh, a young male refugee who lives in a camp during Sri Lanka’s civil war. As he’s digging up a mass grave, Dinesh gets a marriage proposal from a father looking to marry off his daughter, Ganga, as a means of their survival and Arudpragasam tells their story over the span of one day. His writing style weaves imagery and depth aesthetically in a world and time when displaced people are trying to survive and live a normal life during horrific times when taking a shit privately and away from danger is almost impossible. This is a very sad story that focuses on the existence of people during the civil war and not so much its history. It’s an exquisitely written book worthy of your time and attention to perhaps help you understand the pain and suffering experienced in Sri Lanka during the civil war.

Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka by Adele Marie Barker:

Adele Barker is an American professor who accepts a teaching assignment at a university in Kandy shortly after 9/11 and drags her 15 year old son with her. Part travelogue and part memoir, Barker writes this book in the perspective of her immersion into Sri Lankan culture; the living conditions, learning of the language, her job teaching literature, religious holidays, the people she meets and loves, her son’s time in Sri Lanka, and her own reporting of the war in Jaffna. Sometimes, it may seem like the book has no direction but this book was written in such a valiant way with unabashed honesty that I had to write her to tell her how much I loved reading it. I’m almost 100% sure you’ll be booking a trip to Sri Lanka after you’ve read this book to go find your “amba yaluwa”.

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Do you have any other books to add to this list? Do you also read literature before and after visiting new places?

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