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Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka

Join award-winning travel writer John Gimlette, who will describe his three months of travels in Sri Lanka, which formed the basis of his critically acclaimed book Elephant Complex.

As Gimlette will outline, few places are as contradictory as Sri Lanka. The island is home to over 5,800 wild elephants and yet it’s only the size of Ireland. It’s rich in culture and resources, and yet it’s given to moments of inexplicable rage. For the last three decades, it’s hosted not only an alluring tourist industry but also the most savage civil war Asia has ever known (1983-2009). There was once a time when outsiders felt they knew this island. Now, we’re not so sure.

During the talk, Gimlette will be taking us back through the past; to the great medieval reservoir cities; to the Portuguese cinnamon forests; to the Dutch forts, and to the British tea plantations. Then, he’ll be heading north, into the crucible of the conflict, finishing on a battlefield the size of Central Park and still littered with over 10,000 burnt-out vehicles. This is not a place that yields its story easily, but what emerges is an astonishing land of ingenuity and catastrophe, and a people swooning with denial. 

Along the way, we’ll meet terrorists, test cricketers, a former president, ancient tribesmen, the victims of great massacres and perhaps even the perpetrators. There’s no promise of comprehension in this tale, just complexity revealed.

Published at the beginning of October 2015, Gimlette’s book has received glowing reviews from a number of publications. The Daily Telegraph called it a “brilliant new book about an island that has a geography from heaven and a history from hell”, while The Spectator said:

“Rich in humour, full of insight and humanity, Elephant Complex is a very fine tribute to this enigmatic island nation.”

Signed copies of the book will be available at the event.


March 14, 2016
18:45 - 20:30
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Asia House


Asia House
63 New Cavendish Street, London, W1G 7LP United Kingdom

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