Asia Known & Unknown | LJ Reviews

Armchair travelers, tourists, and students of contemporary Sri Lanka will relish Elephant Complex; Mould’s memoir will stimulate interest in Kyrgyzstan; with Subramanian’s study Sri Lanka will finally get the spotlight it deserves

Gimlette, John. Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka. Knopf. Feb. 2016. 384p. photos. maps. index. ISBN 9780385351270. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385351287. TRAV

elephantcomplex.jpg11816Award-winning British travel writer and lawyer Gimlette (Wild Coast; Panther Soup) explores all the regions of the island nation of Sri Lanka, moving between the present and the past (Sri Lanka was consecutively colonized by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British from the 16th century on). The narrative is peppered with history, legends, descriptions of scenery, and encounters with Sri Lankans. There are fascinating tidbits: in one episode elephants are kept away from a treehouse by the singing of elephant-scaring songs. A number of topics are covered: the cities of the reservoir kings of ancient Sri Lanka; the kingdom of Kandy, where for “…222 years the Sinhalese kings kept the Europeans at bay”; the Tamils of the tea plantations; the aboriginal community of Veddahs; and the tsunami of 2004. The most harrowing account is of the civil war that raged from 1983 to 2009, and its grim aftermath. Titles for further reading are listed. Gimlette’s prose is vivid, engaging, and sprinkled with humor; his perspective is that of the outsider. VERDICT Armchair travelers, tourists, and students of contemporary Sri Lanka will relish this enthralling account.—Ravi Shenoy, Naperville, IL

Mould, David H. Postcards from Stanland: Journeys in Central Asia. Ohio Univ. Feb. 2016. 344p. photos. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9780821421772. pap. $24.95. trav

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mistakenly called “Kyrgyzstan” “Kyrzakhstan” in 2013, he surely was not alone in misidentifying one of the smaller “stanland” countries of central Asia. Mould (professor emeritus, media studies, Ohio Univ.; American Newsfilm 1914–1919) is the ideal author to demystify the region and its people as, since the mid-1990s, he has returned to Kyrgyzstan and central Asia many times to work and teach journalism. His account informs readers of nepotism, corruption, and bureaucracy in government and academia in the region. His travels provide further exposure to spectacular scenery and the lives of the ordinary people throughout central Asia. Although the author humbly admits that his writing is “offbeat and non-academic,” he nevertheless delivers an accomplished tome that covers topics ranging from culture and politics to history, the environment, economics, and human rights. Of particular interest are sections that probe national identity; the literary landscape of Semay, Kyrgyzstan; and his overall impression (Mould calls it “seven lessons learned”) of central Asia. VERDICT With a sense of humor, Mould’s memoir will ameliorate the reader’s likely ignorance of Kyrgyzstan and stimulate interest in this lesser-known region.—Victor Or, Surrey Libs., BC

Subramanian, Samanth. This Divided Island: Life, Death, and the Sri Lankan War. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. 2015. 336p. maps. ISBN 9781250069740. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466878747. HIST

In this meticulously detailed cultural profile of Sri Lanka, journalist Subramanian brings compassion and genuine journalism to the history, culture, and devastating civil war in Sri Lanka. This harrowing and often heartbreaking tale is told with writing that reveals not only the horrors to be found in a small and unstable country but also the resilience and steadfastness of its people. Subramanian delves into all of the facets of a complex culture, from the importance of conversation and the social messages hidden in different speeches to the religion and how it impacted the rise and conflict of the war to detailed descriptions of the physical landscape and how that shaped the events of the conflict. With his keen journalistic eye, Subramanian illuminates the complexities and atrocities of a country and culture trying to establish its identity. VERDICT A great read by a stellar writer, this book is for those interested in world politics and social history. Sri Lanka doesn’t get much notice from the Western world, but with Subramanian’s study perhaps it will finally get the spotlight it deserves.—Kathleen Dupré, Edmond, OK

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