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Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka [Kindle Edition]

Adele Barker
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A chronicle of life on the resplendent island, combining the immediacy of memoir with the vividness of travelogue and reportage
Adele Barker and her son, Noah, settled into the central highlands of Sri Lanka for an eighteen-month sojourn, immersing themselves in the customs, cultures, and landscapes of the island—its elephants, birds, and monkeys; its hot curries and sweet mangoes; the cacophony of its markets; the resonant evening chants from its temples. They hear stories of the island’s colorful past and its twenty-five-year civil war between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil Tigers. When, having returned home to Tucson, Barker awakes on December 26, 2004, to see televised images of the island’s southern shore disappearing into the ocean, she decides she must go back. Traveling from the southernmost coasts to the farthest outposts of the Tamil north, she witnesses the ravages of the tsunami that killed forty-eight thousand Sri Lankans in the space of twenty minutes, and reports from the ground on the triumphs and failures of relief efforts. Combining the immediacy of memoir and the vividness of travelogue with the insight of the best reportage, Not Quite Paradise chronicles life in a place few have ever visited.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In 2001, just weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center, Barker packed up herself and her 14-year-old son and traveled to Sri Lanka to teach literature at a university in Kandy. It’s a complete change of pace from her life in Tucson, Arizona, from the omnipresent ants she can’t seem to drive away from her house to the monkeys that sit in on and often disrupt her lectures. As she adjusts to life in Kandy, she learns more about the history of the country, and the civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, triggered in the wake of the British departure from the island. At the time of her arrival, the war had already claimed over forty thousand lives. Barker eventually returns to the U.S. with her son, but when the devastating tsunami hits the day after Christmas in 2004, she is drawn back to Sri Lanka. Rich in the tales of Sri Lanka under colonial British rule as well as coverage of the current civil war, Barker’s memoir is an enlightening and captivating read. --Kristine Huntley


 “Rich in the tales of Sri Lanka under colonial British rule as well as coverage of the current civil war, Barker’s memoir is an enlightening and captivating read.”—Kristine Huntley, Booklist
“Anyone going to Sri Lanka should consider Adele Barker’s Not Quite Paradise essential reading. Even travelers headed to other parts of the globe—or those going no farther than their own living room—will find this story of an American woman thoughtfully wending her way through the complexities of another country’s culture and history fascinating.”—Kristin Ohlson, author of Stalking the Divine and coauthor of Kabul Beauty School
“Adele Barker offers this memorable gift: the story of strangers from very different countries becoming cherished and enduring friends. Against the background of a most beautiful country and through the tragedies that have marred its recent history, her love of the land and for its people won a high place in this reader’s heart.”—Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2219 KB
  • Print Length: 313 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (January 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004H3W3VA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,529 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
This is an intriguing but uneven saga of an American professor's sojurn in Sri Lanka -- or rather, her two sojurns, one teaching as a Fulbright fellow to college students in the mountains near Kandy; another, two years later, as she returns to investigate what has happened to the 'pearl' of Southeast Asia in the wake of the tsunami.

It's a beautifully written and intriguing look at the divided country that is Sri Lanka -- hence the 3.5-star rating (which I've rounded up to 4 stars). But it never really transcends the "foreigner traveling through a strange and exotic land and writing about their experiences" genre, any more than the 19th century sagas by the British colonial officers that Barker reads and cites in the pages of this book did. At least Barker acknowledges the difficulty or impossibility of ever being more than a part of the culture, and she is certainly conscious of the all the ironies of Western relationships with the Tamils and Sinhalese communities. Aid agencies full of goodwill provide tsunami survivors with replacement fishing boats, but no nets, and no homes. The tourist areas are rapidly rebuilt; those that no tourist will ever see are left until last.

Barker's book covers a lot of ground, and will be of interest to those with a casual interest in Sri Lanka or looking for a basic overview of the country and its political, economic and social dilemmas. What is missing, however, is what transforms a memoir into something more important or significant -- an overarching theme. For instance, Emma Larkin (I believe, a pseudonym) wrote a fascinating book about following George Orwell's tracks through modern-day Burma.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From a Sri Lankan American point of view July 21, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Adele Barker and her teenage son Noah spent a year in Sri Lanka where Adele taught literature at the University of Peradeniya in Kandy. In Not Quite Paradise, Adele discusses everything from the food and customs to the people she meets, and the civil war. After the tsunami, Adele returns once again to Sri Lanka and describes the horrible devastation. She also travels north to war-torn Jaffna where she experiences the danger first hand. Not Quite Paradise combines interesting details about daily life, historical fact, and current events in a country ravaged by war for over twenty years.

Sri Lanka is a tiny island nation populated by two distinct ethnic groups: the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority. It was once a colony of Britain but after the British pulled out, tensions escalated culminating in the civil war between the LTTE, a faction of Tamil terrorists, and the Sinhalese government that began in 1983. Adele makes the country's history come alive and she talks about the conflict from an unbiased point of view. Her own personal experiences as an American adjusting to life in Sri Lanka add touches of humor to the narrative.

Not Quite Paradise was an intensely personal reading experience for me. My parents are originally from Sri Lanka. They immigrated in the mid 70s before I was born. If not for that choice, my sister and I would have grown up there in the middle of the war. The descriptions of war violence were very hard to read about. Although the war ended last year it will take a long time to rebuild and heal. People in Sri Lanka have suffered a lot but even among the sorrow they have hope. There is a lot of beauty and rich culture on the island. Adele is particularly interested in elephants and local birds and I enjoyed reading about the animals that she saw.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been two books: one of them good November 7, 2010
By labfs39
Less than a year ago, the Sri Lankan government announced that the 25 year old civil war with the Tamil Tigers was over. The end came after a horrific standoff on a tiny strip of land with civilians caught in the middle. After following the news that week in May of 2009, I felt compelled to learn more about the history of Sri Lanka and the war. My ignorance on the subject was complete: my only glimpse into the conflict coming from one of my favorite novels, Anil's Ghost, by Sri Lankan born Michael Ondaatje.

This memoir, Not Quite Paradise, begun while the author was a Fulbright Scholar in 2001 and finished after her second visit after the tsunami of 2004, was a gentle introduction to Sri Lankan culture and history. I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book, which was about her year-long teaching stint in 2001. Her writing in this section was fluid and descriptive, with funny details that made me feel connected with her experience. The second half of the book is more tense in language and reflects her desire to get at the impact of the tsunami and the experience of people in northern Sri Lanka. Although her experiences in this half were still interesting, it was less first person and more journalistic in tone.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why Sri Lanka? March 26, 2011
The book is divided into two parts. The first takes place soon after 9/11 when the author uproots her teenage son and goes off to teach literature at a university in the island nation of Sri Lanka. She stays for a year and this part of the book chronicles her adjustment to life in this poor country, attempting to learn their language and customs and making friends. This is the more enjoyable of the two parts. The second part takes place after the the December 26, 2004 tsunami that devestated the coast of the country killing over 100,000 people, and devasting further a land already devasted by over 30 years of civil war between two ethnic groups the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Upon her return Barker sets out to explore the coast of the country and the northern part of the country which has been inaccessible for years because of the war. In this part of the book she reports on the relief efforts to restore the country after the tsunami and on the effects of the civil war on the North. My main criticism of the book is the emotional dryness of the book. I find Barker a remote author. We are never brought emotionally into her life in Sri Lanka despite being taken into her many friendships there. We never learn why she chose to leave the U.S. in 2001 taking her son away from his friends and school. Nor does she ever tell us why she chose Sri Lanka. Even in the more engaging first part of the book Adele veers over into the academic a bit too frequently, giving us quotes from the diaries of foreign travelers who came to the country hundreds of years before. I found this intrusive on the books narrative flow. If you are unfamiliar with Sri Lanka you will learn much about it from this book, but the book could have been much more emotionally engaging in the hands of a different author.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book
Published 10 months ago by Helen Bertha Hall
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good
I enjoyed the book thoroughly, start to finish. Learned many interesting facts, also famous people who lived or worked in Sri Lanka. I recommend it highly.
Published 14 months ago by Joanne Zinn
4.0 out of 5 stars Adele Barker's Travels in Sri Lanka
Shortly after 9/11, Adele Barker and her son Noah moved to Sri Lanka for 18 months (she was teaching there. Read more
Published on July 4, 2012 by Black Plum
4.0 out of 5 stars A rocky time on an unsteady island
A few weeks after 9/11, this professor of Russian lit lands in Sri Lanka. She and her teenaged son, who left Tucson after some unspecified dissatisfaction, face a year on a... Read more
Published on March 24, 2012 by John L Murphy
4.0 out of 5 stars A Journey to Paradise
Settle down into your most comfy chair armed with a cup of tea, and journey to Sri Lanka with Adele Barker, a teacher from Tucson, Arizona, and her son, Noah. Read more
Published on February 4, 2011 by Story Circle Book Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Reeks Of White Guilt
This is the usual fish out of water travel story from Western Europeans and Americans: American goes to foreign country, expresses wonderment at the local customs, experiences... Read more
Published on July 14, 2010 by reenum
5.0 out of 5 stars A little piece of paradise
If you've ever been to Sri Lanka, you probably experienced it as a wonderful paradise of beaches and beautiful people. Read more
Published on June 18, 2010 by Jacqueline Wales
5.0 out of 5 stars A top pick for any travel memoir collection
Some places keep their own culture, standing against the constant bombardments of others. "Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka" is a memoir from Adele Barker as... Read more
Published on April 13, 2010 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars Drop everything and travel
This book introduced me to a part of the world which I knew very little about. The author's lyrical voice, sharp and clear-eyed observations, and deep respect for the people she... Read more
Published on April 8, 2010 by Nomi B. Sokoloff
1.0 out of 5 stars Disjointed
Not Quite Paradise by Adele Barker doesn't know what type of book to be - a memoir? A travelogue? A political commentary? Read more
Published on March 7, 2010 by Katie
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More About the Author

Adele Barker is the author and editor of five books on Russian literature and culture. She has taught at the universities of Arizona and Washington. Most recently, she received a UCross Fellowship for her work and a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant to teach and write in Sri Lanka.

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