Friday, July 9, 2010

Non-fiction English in Sri Lanka

“Sindbad in Serendib” is one of those ‘must have’ books on the shelf even if you are not a collector of books on Sri Lanka. This is a collection of articles published in the newspapers over the years by Richard Boyle. It is very scholarly in approach but I never found it dry or boring.
Apart from the aforementioned Sindbad, articles cover, in exhaustive detail, the pearl fisheries of Ceylon, the :anaconda of Ceylon,” Galle in its heyday, the Nittaewo, a pigmy-sized aboriginal group of people said to have existed in ancient times, the archaeological site of Ritigala, Zoologist and artist Ernst Haeckel, and psychologist Carl G. Jung’s visit to Sri Lanka. Rich in anecdote and evidently the product of years of painstaking research, this is one book I’m really proud to have in my collection!

It is beautifully printed and contains many splendid illustrations, including the work of Gustav Dore, archaeologists  P. E. P. Deraniyagala and H. C. P. Bell, Ernst Haeckel, and others.

Publications on Sri Lankan cinema

Sri Lankan magazines in English

newspapers in English/Tamil/foreign languages

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

History through magazine covers

This Time magazine cover takes us back to the time of the Watergate scandal in the United States. Let's not forget that a couple of journalists were able to unsettle a presidency, and that neither journalist was kidnapped, assaulted or murdered because of this.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Children's books in all languages

This section of my virtual library and archives will feature what I have collected as children's literature. It will feature book covers (sorry, but I don't have the resources to scan entire books), pages from books, magazines and encyclopaedias. 
We start off with  the Sinhala version of Herge's 'Crab With the Golden Claws.' The cover looks gorgeous as in all Tintin books, but the inside pages are black and white. More than that, it's the poor printing quality which detracts from  the story. Still, any effort to bring Tintin to children who don't understand English in praiseworthy.

Next, we have two pages from a very old children's encyclopaedia. It introduces parts of an article about Lewis Carol, the author of Alice in Wonderland, with an illustration of the author made by a contemporary artist, as well less-than-actual size reproduction of the last and first pages of the very first handwritten manuscript of 'Alice in Wonderland.' Read the pages and you'll see that the original title was something else.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Books on hobbies and technical subjects

"What is a Model Aircraft: Instructions for Beginners"

This is a very interesting little book in Sinhala by aviation enthusiast Viraj Fernando. Viraj can fly light aircraft and has a factory turning out model aircraft (as far as I know, the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka). In a country which has no regular publications devoted to this hobby, the series of books written by viraj is very important.

The book is attractively designed and printed, and priced at only Rs. 200. It has many excellent black and white photographs explaining many aspects of the hobby.

Viraj Fernando can be contacted on 038 4922019 and email


Mee Pura is the only regional Sinhala medium newspaper published in Sri Lanka. It's edited and published by Freddie Gamage, a human rights activist from Negombo. Freddie started this as a billboard news bulletin and created the present tabloid-sized newspaper through sheer hard work and dedication.

This issue has 20 pages with many black and white photos and very few ads, thus devoting much space to news. It covers regional news, some of it controversial and missed by the mainstream media. There are short features covering the arts, history and the environment.

The paper is priced at Rs. 15 and has its own website

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Religion and mysticism

Non-fiction English in Sri Lanka

“A Cocktail in English” is a very interesting book written by Dr. Navamany Selvarajah. I met her when I went to Jaffna during the ‘happy hour’ when the Ranil Wickremasinghe government signed a peace accord with the LTTE, and we would travel along the A9 to Jaffna for the first time in many years.

Dr. Selvarajah’s book was published in Jaffna in 2005 and she sent me a copy to be reviewed. I’m going to try and get a new edition published in Colombo, but the first edition with all its typos and little foibles is a gem.

The author, who now lives in retirement in Jaffna, is a professor of zoology and former head of the Department of Zoology in the University of Jaffna. She has a B.Sc (Hons) from Sri Lanka and a M.Sc (Research) from Britain. Her book, however, is hardly academic, and that’s why I find it so interesting.

As Dr. Selvarajah states in her preface, she was keen to promote the learning of English among the younger generation, as “the standard of English flopped dangerously.” The book is thus written in simple language but covers a fascinating variety of subjects. So many things are crammed into a little book with just 170 pages ( it was published in Jaffna and the original price was only Rs. 100).

The book may be small, but so much knowledge is crammed into it. You can see at once the sort of wide reading that is so hard to come by nowadays. She quotes Shakespeare, Shelley, Twain, Goethe, Plato, Ibid et al – and doesn’t forget to add a song by Jim Reeves! There are her own charming poems, and a very interesting chapter on birds, hardly surprising considering her background in zoology.

But this is no light romp over laughing matter. Jokes abound, but she writes seriously about her passage in her late thirties through mental illness, diagnosed as schizophrenia. She discusses this with a candour that is rare in Sri Lankan writing. Then there is her account of the Jaffna Exodus of 1995, a panicky flight to safety in the face of a military offensive.

Fascinating too, are the glimpses of Jaffna society of old – as recounted in “Memories of Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan as told by my mother.” Such writing makes you aware that the author is one of the final links we have with a vanished culture. What a pity that this book didn’t run into many more pages!