Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka


A chronicle of life on the resplendent island, combining the immediacy of memoir with the vividness of travelogue and reportage
Adele Barker and her son, Noah, settled into the central highlands of Sri Lanka for an eighteen-month sojourn, immersing themselves in the customs, cultures, and landscapes of the island—its elephants, birds, and monkeys; its hot curries and sweet mangoes; the cacophony of its markets; the resonant evening ...

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Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka

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A chronicle of life on the resplendent island, combining the immediacy of memoir with the vividness of travelogue and reportage
Adele Barker and her son, Noah, settled into the central highlands of Sri Lanka for an eighteen-month sojourn, immersing themselves in the customs, cultures, and landscapes of the island—its elephants, birds, and monkeys; its hot curries and sweet mangoes; the cacophony of its markets; the resonant evening chants from its temples. They hear stories of the island’s colorful past and its twenty-five-year civil war between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil Tigers. When, having returned home to Tucson, Barker awakes on December 26, 2004, to see televised images of the island’s southern shore disappearing into the ocean, she decides she must go back. Traveling from the southernmost coasts to the farthest outposts of the Tamil north, she witnesses the ravages of the tsunami that killed forty-eight thousand Sri Lankans in the space of twenty minutes, and reports from the ground on the triumphs and failures of relief efforts. Combining the immediacy of memoir and the vividness of travelogue with the insight of the best reportage, Not Quite Paradise chronicles life in a place few have ever visited.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Barker received a Fulbright scholarship for a yearlong teaching stint at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, 2001–02. She returned shortly after the tsunami in 2004, in which 30,000 people died in Sri Lanka alone. In this illuminating account, Barker provides glimpses of day-to-day living and teaching in Sri Lanka and describes the devastation caused by the tsunami and the subsequent relief efforts. She chronicles the toll that the civil war in Sri Lanka has taken on the lives of ordinary citizens over the last 26 years, interweaving her narrative with human stories of ordinary Sinhalese and Tamils. Barker relates an engrossing discussion that she led with Jaffna students on Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. In the midst of trauma, Barker provides captivating accounts about elephants, monkeys, and exotic birds. VERDICT This book will satisfy many nonfiction readers, and there are several contemporary Sri Lankan novels available in English for those whose interest is piqued by this narrative portrait of the country. Highly recommended.—Ravi Shenoy, Naperville P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
A single mother and her teenage son navigate life and culture in South Asia. Within days of her sojourn to Sri Lanka in 2001, American-born Barker was met with immense sympathy for her homeland and its citizens-she had arrived just three weeks after 9/11. Feeling the need for a change of pace, Barker sought out teaching assignments and was commissioned to teach 19th- and 20th-century Russian literature to Sri Lankan university students. Her own cultural education of the region began almost immediately. With son Noah in tow, the author settled in the religious town of Kandy, drawing much attention as the "white lady tourist." "Thirteen time zones removed" from her home base, the author immersed herself in the area's customs and traditions, noting special holidays, frequent power outages and wet/dry seasons. The conditions of their ramshackle house included face-offs with ant colonies, geckos, spiders, monkeys, mosquitoes and ravenous rats. Though he'd acclimated adequately to the terrain, Barker constantly fretted about Noah, knowing that she "uprooted him from everything that grounded him." As the center of Buddhist culture on the island, Barker notes that Kandy is full of opportunities for personal prayer and serenity, but she also devotes equal time to the region's great history of civil unrest, the deadly war games that are downplayed in the media to stabilize tourism and the race, language and religious conflicts that have plagued Sri Lanka for decades. Though Barker reports firsthand on the devastation of the 2004 tsunami, her travels are conservatively tepid in comparison to other like-minded travelogues. Intelligently written but overly timid.
From the Publisher
 “Rich in the tales of Sri Lanka under colonial British rule as well as coverage of the current civil war, Barker’s memoir is an enlightening and captivating read.”—Kristine Huntley, Booklist
“Anyone going to Sri Lanka should consider Adele Barker’s Not Quite Paradise essential reading. Even travelers headed to other parts of the globe—or those going no farther than their own living room—will find this story of an American woman thoughtfully wending her way through the complexities of another country’s culture and history fascinating.”—Kristin Ohlson, author of Stalking the Divine and coauthor of Kabul Beauty School
“Adele Barker offers this memorable gift: the story of strangers from very different countries becoming cherished and enduring friends. Against the background of a most beautiful country and through the tragedies that have marred its recent history, her love of the land and for its people won a high place in this reader’s heart.”—Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807000618
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 1/1/2010
  • Pages: 303
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Adele Barker, who was awarded a Ucross Fellowship for her work on this book, is the author or editor of five books on Russian literature and cultural life. Most recently, she received a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant to teach and write in Sri Lanka.

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