Welcome to Travel Readings
Melbourne: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Books, Movies and Beyond…
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Washington, DC and New York
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Rome
Rio de Janeiro: Crimes of August (Agosto) by Rubem Fonseca
Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Liège (Belgium): Pedigree by Georges Simenon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Lisbon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Cambodia
Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
Paris: Flowers of Ruin and Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Naples
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Tanzania
Sri Lanka: Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Books, Movies and Beyond… : Venice
Dublin: The Dead by James Joyce
Books, Movies and Beyond: Iran
Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The Matter of Desire (Materia del Deseo) by Edmundo Paz Soldán
Books, Movies and Beyond: Syria
Djibouti: Passage of Tears (Passage des Larmes) by Abdourahman Waberi
Books, Movies and Beyond: Armenia
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo
Bangkok: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Périgord, France: The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker
Books, Movies and Beyond: Brussels
Naples: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Books, Movies and Beyond: Rio de Janeiro
Tajikistan: Hurramabad by Andrei Volos
New-York: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Israel and Palestine: To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Books, Movies and Beyond: Bavaria and Southern Germany
Cape Town: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
Books, Movies and Beyond: India
Blue Ridge Mountains: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Books, Movies and Beyond: Algeria
Austrian Alps: A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) by Robert Seethaler
Books, Movies and Beyond: Africans in America
Zimbabwe: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
Books, Movies and Beyond: Colombia
Belgian Ardennes: The All Saints’ Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Côte d’Ivoire: Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Japan: Haruki Murakami and Amélie Nothomb
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Rope and The Denial of Saint Peter by Charles Baudelaire
Books, Movies and Beyond: Cairo
Vancouver: What is Remembered by Alice Munro
Ghent (Belgium): War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
Haiti: An Aroma of Coffee and Dining with the Dictator by Dany Laferrière and The Comedians by Graham Greene
Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
Siena and Tuscany : Il Palio delle contrade morte by Fruttero & Lucentini and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
China : Wild Swans. Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
Former Soviet Union: The Unwomanly Face of War  by Svetlana Alexievich
Provence: The Horseman on the Roof by Jean Giono, La charrette bleue by René Barjavel, Madame de Sévigné and Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp
Moscow: The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère
Books, Movies and Beyond: Vietnam
Books, Movies and Beyond: The Wars in Vietnam

Sri Lanka: Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

Tea time. Served in china on the veranda of the Viharagala bungalow.  In the middle of tea plantations, leaning on Haputale’s mountain, this is the former residence of the English owners. The view is splendid: after a quick grasp of the garden’s orchids, the eye goes down the mountains, blue in the twilight and it captures the burning plains, until the sea. It seems that a few wing beats would be enough to reach the beaches of the Indian Ocean.

On the map distances are short in Sri Lanka. In reality, roads are narrow, winding and long.  By day, you need to wait behind buses and trucks or stop to let a Hindu or a Buddhist procession go by. By night, you might have to slalom between elephants. Not surprising to find a network of resthouses developed to welcome travelers for lunch, a nap or a night.



Some of these resthouses probably did not change much since the time when Michael Ondaatje’s father would stop there. In « Running in the Family », Ondaatje tells how a long feud between his family and a family of Ceylonese dignitaries started in the visitors’ book of such a resthouse.  Sammy Dias Bandaranaike and Ondaatje’s father spent the night at the same resthouse. Bandaranaike wrote in the visitors’ book a long complaint about the service, the badly made drinks, the poor rice and the uncomfortable beds. When leaving a few hours later, Ondaatje senior wrote two short sentences « No complaints. Not even about Mr. Bandaranaike ». A literary war ensued for several months, waged on the pages of the visitors’ books. And the war was a public one since everybody who mattered in Ceylon was stopping in the resthouses and reading the guests’ comments.



This story is one of the many told in those family memoirs. During a trip back to Sri Lanka after several years in Canada, Michael Ondaatje describes the colorful characters in his family of Burghers, offspring of Dutch settlers with mixed Sinhalese or Tamil blood. The tombs and steles in and around the Old Dutch Reformed Church in Galle are testimonies of that history.


Old Dutch Reformed Church in Galle

The Dutch Reformed Church in the Galle Fort.

Steles inscribed in Dutch in the Reformed Church in the Galle Fort.

Beyond this homecoming and this pilgrimage to the houses and plantations, to the flowers, the rains and the snakes of his childhood, it is in essence a search for his father that Ondaatje is conducting.  This father, a magnificent drunk whose antics are the stuff of legend, but whom he has never known.

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