Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka
by Adele Barker


Beacon Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-807-00061-8.
Reviewed by Sheridan Ward
Posted on 02/04/2011

Nonfiction: Memoir

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.

In 2001, Barker received a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant to teach and write in Sri Lanka. During her year in the central highland country, Barker discovers the beauty and tranquility of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon, famous for its tea). She makes beautiful friendships, and immerses herself into the wonders of this nation. Her perspectives on the now-peaceful University of Peradeniya, where she taught, and on the violence around her on this small island nation's struggles with civil unrest, are fascinating. You are right there with her in this introduction to a vibrant world created by twenty-five years of civil unrest between the Sinhalese government and the Tamil Tigers. Go along as Barker tastes hot curries or sweet mangoes, listens to the sounds of birds, monkeys, or religious chants from her home, learns Sinhalese, gets to know her friends and mentors, rides on the tuk-tuks and buses, and lives in her "not quite" paradise.

After leaving Sri Lanka and returning home to Tucson, Barker watches CNN's coverage of the devastation inflicted by a December 26, 2004 tsunami. The video shows land, trees, tables and people being swept into the ocean. Reports later confirm the extensive damage the tsunami inflicts on the southern shore of Sri Lanka, killing forty-eight thousand Sri Lankans within 20 minutes. Returning to Sri Lanka, she seeks out friends she had know years before only to find out that many were lost on "the day the sea came to the land."

This amazing account of one woman's journey to a country filled with mysterious beliefs, tropical beauty, and violence by man and nature will take you to realms never imagined.


Adele Barker has taught at the Universities of Arizona and Washington. She is the author or editor of five books on Russian literature and cultural life and was awarded the Ucross Fellowship for her work on Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka. She currently resides in Tucson, Arizona.

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