Return to Sri Lanka: Travels is a Paradoxical Island (Juggernaut, 2019), the latest book by Professor Razeen Sally, describes the country with the following words.
There are shelf-loads of recent books about bigger and better-known countries, not least on Sri Lanka’s giant northern neighbour. But little Sri Lanka hardly pops up on the world’s radar screen. When it does, it presents a fractional, distorted view – bombs going off one day, ethnic riots another day, alleged war crimes. On more peaceful days, it yields tourist images of ‘Paradise’...
Return to Sri Lanka is part memoir, part history, part travelogue, as Professor Sally returns to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the civil war to experience its history, culture, politics and people.
Many of the themes of Return to Sri Lanka are discussed in an essay written for the Nikkei Asian Review: “Rediscovering Sri Lanka through a travel memoir,” published last November.
In this interview, I ask Razeen to talk about his life in Sri Lanka and his return to the island. We talk about Sri Lanka’s post-independence history, and how it shaped the sights and societies Professor Sally saw on his visit. We also talk about why he decided to write a “travel” book, rather than a dense work of economic analysis and politics.
Razeen Sally is a Sri Lankan-British writer and academic. He taught at the London School of Economics, where he also received his PhD. He founded a think tank in Brussels, and is now an Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He can be followed on Twitter at @razeensally.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.