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Reading ‘Reef’ in Jaffna

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The book: Reef, Romesh Gunesekera

The place: Jaffna, Sri Lanka


In Sri Lanka for just over two weeks of glorious, glorious holiday. My brother lives in Colombo, which is the ostensible reason for the visit, and I spent a couple of sybaritic days with him and his partner in Negombo and Mount Lavinia before setting out for a bit of solo wandering. I came up to Jaffna by train a couple of days ago: the plan had been to book on the first class 5.10am service, but it was sold out, so I went in second class at 5.50am (after an excess of beer and whisky turned into an inadvertent all-nighter) and spent the next eleven hours crammed sweatily into a corner, dangling one now-sunburnt arm out of the window to catch the breeze, and reading pretty much the entirety of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, recently recommended to me by a couple of friends. (It is excellent.)

Having spent so much time in parts of Africa over the past several years, it’s always very pleasing to land somewhere that feels properly different, as most of the places that I spend time have lost novelty value and become familiar, to some degree. It’s not quite as extreme here as it was in Burma last year, but it’s the little things that are the most pleasing: I find the scale of things in Sri Lanka is different to what I’m used to, smaller and neater; the shapes of the vegetation are different; the view from my hotel is of a sea of palmyrah palms dotted with temples stacked up like ziggurats. Up here in Jaffna you can see the remnants of the war – bombed out houses long overtaken by greenery – but in the main it’s hard to believe that it ended as recently as 2009; what comment can I make after all of 48 hours in Jaffna, of course, but it doesn’t fit my own map of a nation still emerging from conflict. As with Rwanda, or indeed Sierra Leone (though their conflicts are further in the past), it’s nice to spend time somewhere that has truly Got Better.
Jaffna Fort

Jaffna Fort

Jaffna Lagoon
Mysterious fish-fences in Jaffna Lagoon


Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, one of the most significant Hindu temples in Sri Lanka

From my sixth-floor hotel room, much of Jaffna looks like this – lost amid a sea of palmyrah palms


Written by Jess

April 22, 2016 at 9:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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