Sri lanka

Terrorists you might know or love: Brotherless Night, by V.V. Ganeshananthan, reviewed

Brotherless Night is the second novel by V.V. Ganeshananthan, an American writer of Sri Lankan Tamil descent, whose debut, Love Marriage, was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2008. Here, as in her previous book, a female narrator unpicks the lives of a Sri Lankan family torn apart by civil war. Sashi’s reason for studying medicine, and her oft-repeated mantra, is: ‘First do no harm’ The prologue, set in New York in 2009, explodes with its opening sentence: ‘I recently sent a letter to a terrorist I used to know.’ But the bulk of the novel, set in 1980s Sri Lanka, is a mesmerising portrait of time and

A ghoulish afterlife: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, by Shehan Karunatilaka, reviewed

Ten years ago Shehan Karunatilaka’s first novel, Chinaman, was published and I raved about it, as did many others. Set in the 1980s, it intertwined the stories of a vanished, forgotten cricketer who was able to bowl unplayable deliveries and the particularly brutal war that was ravaging Sri Lanka. My review ended with the words: ‘Karunatilaka is, I gather, writing another novel, but how it can be as good as this I can hardly imagine.’ We now have that novel, and I was right: it isn’t as good. Which is not to say it’s bad. In fact, there are parts of its design and telling that are very good indeed.

Sri Lanka’s descent into chaos

Colombo, Sri Lanka Some 13 years after the end of a civil war that saw 100,000 deaths, Sri Lanka is once again on the cusp of serious violence. Earlier today, the police opened fire on protesters in the town of Rambukkana. One person has died and at least ten people are said to be in critical condition. It’s the first use of deadly force against demonstrators who seem to have filled the entire island in recent weeks. Grainy footage shows half-conscious bodies being carried into hospital, bullet casings littering the quiet palm-lined streets. This was meant to be a time of celebration. Buddhists are marking the new year while the

How to scale a mountain without leaving home

In January a friend visited me at my home in Colombo, and I promised him that we would climb Adam’s Peak. That plan was scotched when, days before he landed, I went down with dengue fever. But I’d done Adam’s Peak before (twice, actually), and there would always be another chance to do it, right? Things changed. When lockdown came to Sri Lanka, I found I was already bored and irritable in the first week. Then I saw a cheery Facebook post about some chap called David Sharp who used his time in isolation to calculate how many stairs he would have to climb in his home to ‘top’ the

Up close and personal | 2 May 2019

‘Can you fly down this evening?’ she was asked by her boss in the Delhi office of the BBC. ‘Yes, of course. I have to,’ replied Ayeshea Perera, a Sri Lankan journalist. She was talking from Colombo to David Amanor of the World Service’s The Fifth Floor, which looks at current news stories from the perspective of those intimately involved with them and is always worth catching for its alternative, less formal approach and Amanor’s gentle probing to find the real story. Perera described the chaos on arriving at the airport in the Sri Lankan capital on the evening of Easter Day and the weirdness of going to see the

Portrait of the week | 25 April 2019

Home Theresa May, the Prime Minister, returned to parliament after the Easter recess to find backbenchers plotting to get rid of her. The 1922 Committee agonised over whether to change its rules in order to hold another vote of no confidence in her. More than 70 local Conservative association chiefs called an extraordinary general meeting of the National Conservative Convention to consider the proposition: ‘We no longer feel that Mrs May is the right person to continue as prime minister.’ A poll of Conservative councillors by Survation, for the Mail on Sunday, found that 40 per cent were planning to vote for the Brexit party in next month’s EU elections.

What Isis wants

It has become commonplace to describe terror attacks as ‘senseless’. The horrific Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, which cost the lives of more than 350 people, several British citizens among them, make little sense. The only way to understand them is as a symptom of the growing globalisation of terror. The tactics — synchronised bombs on a Christian holy day — are grotesquely familiar. And it was not surprising to learn that one of the attackers was partly educated in London. The attacks, on three Catholic churches and three hotels favoured by westerners, clearly targeted Christians. The culprits have been identified as local Islamic extremists. The purpose of the

Julie Burchill

Keeping the faith | 25 April 2019

After hearing about the massacre in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, I went to church, happily sang the word God and stuffed £20 in the collection plate. I’m a believer and am lucky to have a lovely church on the corner of the square where I live. I attend irregularly, but on my frequent walks to my volunteer job I always enjoy disapproving as I read the list of activities going on at the community centre which is in ‘the award-winning conversion’ (the sin of pride, for starters) of the nave of the church — bridge (gambling), astrology circle (false prophets), kung-fu (violence) and pilates (vanity), all in one week!

Miracle of Mumbai

It’s a 31ºC Mumbai morning, and on Marine Drive the Russian winter is closing in. The Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) is rehearsing Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony ahead of its first ever UK tour, and even on the campus of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) — a palm-shaded tropical Barbican next to the Arabian Sea — this is still music to raise a shiver. Strings sigh; horns call across frozen steppes. Then the guest conductor Martyn Brabbins gives the signal for a break and players spill into the foyer, chatting and gulping tea. If the sky were more grey and the tea less sweet, it could be a

Cricket’s new radio stars

‘And I need a wee,’ said the former England fast–bowling legend Darren Gough, as tension built up during the Sri Lankans’ thrilling last–wicket stand against England in the third Test in Colombo. Not something you would normally expect to hear in cricket commentary, but this was the new kid on the block, the invigorating Talksport, and Gough is one of its stars. He has long been a consummate broadcaster, as well of course as the taker of a Test hat trick (against the Aussies), and the winner of the Strictly glitterball. Not much wrong with that CV. The BBC had things its own way for so long it just didn’t

Stand up for Muslims

Anti-Christian persecution, for so long a great untold story, has started to gain the world’s attention. But the suffering of Christian communities, from Syria to Nigeria to China, is part of an even broader phenomenon. Religious conflict is on the rise across the globe, with ancient tensions being raised by new political methods. And in many countries — Sri Lanka, India, the Central African Republic and elsewhere — it’s Muslims who have the most reason to fear violence. In Burma, they may even have been victims of genocide. That, at any rate, is what UN officials are trying to investigate after a wave of brutality which has forced 700,000 Rohingya

A stroke in Sri Lanka

This time last year, it seemed that life couldn’t get much better for me: I had a new book out to appreciative reviews, had just returned from a literary festival in Mumbai and was en route to a few more, in Galle, Jaipur and Lahore. The Galle festival is small and cosy — a little paradise of sun and sea and authors and books — and I loved my first event, with the lively Sri Lankan writer Ashok Ferrey. Afterwards, signing books, I had a bad headache but I took a paracetamol and tried to ignore it. That night, there was a big dinner organised by Geoffrey Dobbs, the man

Hopes and dreams

Twenty-odd pages into Michelle de Kretser’s The Life to Come, I pounded the table and bellowed an Australian-accented ‘fuck yeah!’ This startled my wife, who startled the cat, which startled my gin and tonic into my lap. But it was worth it, and remains my unvarnished critical opinion. To varnish it a bit: The Life to Come is de Kretser’s sixth book, her first full-length novel since her 2013 Miles Franklin Award, and for my money one of the best to have been published in Australia in the past decade. De Kretser follows a group of characters all dreaming of the titular life to come: Pippa is a middling Sydney

Bitter sweet

The French master film-maker Jacques Audiard has never been anywhere near Hollywood plot school. His films contain gathering menace — something somewhere is going to go horribly wrong — but where the menace will come from, and who will get hurt, is anyone’s guess. In his astonishing prison drama A Prophet the threat to its greenhorn French-Arab inmate comes from all quarters until he himself evolves into the threat. There are two almost unwatchable scenes in Rust and Bone: in one a marine-park trainer of orcas wakes up in hospital to discover she has lost both legs; in another a bareknuckle street fighter has to thump a hole through the

Reasons to be cheerful, parts one, two, three…

Well the sun is out, the sky is blue, and poor Boris Johnson is taking such a pounding from Matthew Parris and Petronella Wyatt that it makes the battle of Kursk look like an Easter Parade. Plenty to be cheerful about, then, and nowhere more so than in this blissful sporting spring. First, the T20 World Championship is producing cricket to make your hair stand on end. England’s men and women are racing through the tournament, and the men’s last- over win to beat Sri Lanka and reach the semis was spellbinding. England hadn’t reached three figures by the 15th over, but finished on 171. It was enough (just) after

Sri Lanka makes me yearn to be a pre-war tea planter

Sri Lanka In my next life, I’m going back in time to become a tea planter in pre-war Ceylon. I half knew this even before I’d ever set foot in Sri Lanka. After a blissful couple of days at Rosyth, an estate house in old tea- growing country about an hour from Kandy, I understood exactly why: the climate, the views, the staff, the sundowners… Which are the same reasons the colonial British took so particularly well to tea-growing, whether in Assam, Darjeeling, Kenya or Ceylon. It thrives in just the conditions British people tend to find most congenial: pleasantly warm but not boiling; plenty of rain to keep the

I’ve never thought much of John Lennon’s music – until now

It’s probably blasphemous to admit that I’ve never thought very much of John Lennon’s music. Common sense tells me it must be good but it’s never made much of an impact on me no matter how hard I’ve tried to appreciate it. If I like a Beatles song, I usually discover it’s by George. But the discovery from a radio trailer (reluctantly, I’ll have to admit they do sometimes work) that Lennon would have been 75 this week was shocking enough (how could he ever be that old?) to make me tune in on Thursday night to John Lennon’s Last Day. Stephen Kennedy’s docudrama for Radio 2 (produced by James

A twinge of fear, and a glimpse of a harsher world

I celebrated Eid in a sandy bay in Sri Lanka, watching from the warm, shallow sea as gaggles of local Muslims in holiday mood sauntered past to congregate at the public end of the beach about half a mile away. Since they looked so much more colourful, picturesque and exotic than the tourists in the security-guarded enclave where I was, I thought I’d wander down to take a few snaps. Having just finished Ramadan, they were all very excited — the young men especially. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a group of dark-skinned boys with wispy beards, bare-chested but in long trousers, had surrounded me. ‘Selfie!’ one of them said —

I miss the days when French rugby was great. Thierry Dusautoir must, too

It used to be such a treat of a winter weekend, sitting down to watch France against Wales in Paris in the Six Nations. And not just because of the anthems. There would be the prospect of seeing players like Sella, Serge Blanco, the Williamses, JJ and JPR, Philippe Saint-André, Scott Gibbs, Rives, Jenkins — an almost endless list of exquisite, fluid runners, the essence of rugby genius. Now less so. It’s Mathieu Bastareaud and Jamie Roberts, a fifth of a ton of gristle and bone, banging into each other. The main question now is quite how poor Les Bleus will be. You can see it all in the resigned

Sebastian Faulks’s diary: My task for 2015 – get a job

Just back from Sri Lanka, a place I first went to in 1981. It was then a dreamy island. I remember giving the room boy who had brought my case to the bandicoot-infested bedroom in Colombo a few rupees, but he wasn’t interested. He just wanted to sit on the bed and talk — about London, England, cricket, life. Three decades and a civil war later, people are aware of money, there is bottled water, and a pot of tea doesn’t take half an hour to arrive. One thing that seems unchanged is the optimism of the people. The new president, Mr Sirisena, has promised an end to the corruption