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Elephant Complex by John Gimlette

by Sam Clark

Following the success of the Tea Planter’s Wife, published a few weeks ago and now blowing up a storm on the Amazon bestsellers lists, we were really pleased to be associated with another, very different book featuring Sri Lanka. This is John Gimlette’s travel book about his journey around Sri Lanka, the war and the aftermath: Elephant Complex, released last week.

John approached us in 2013 to organise a trip he was planning to northern Sri Lanka and we were happy to help him. It was an interesting project as he obviously had a thorough understanding of Sri Lanka already. At that point, he was deep into researching a book which would become ‘Elephant Complex’, released last week. We had to use all of our contacts and resources to show him a different side of Sri Lanka to what he already knew. I spent an interesting few hours talking to John about my own experiences of Sri Lanka having lived there and visited many times since 2001. A version of the article he wrote then for the Financial Times made it into the finished book too.

I’ve just finished reading Elephant Complex and found it an exceptionally interesting and enlightening read. John talks about the ancient tracks which elephants follow through the islands – sometimes returning to them long after the traces are invisible to a human eye and indeed, out of the lifespan of the elephants themselves. How these mysterious animals remember is anyone’s guess. These paths become a sort of metaphor for the paths explored and trodden by the people of Sri Lanka and the many travellers who have explored the country from Ibn Battuta onwards.

He starts by following the well-worn tourist paths and looks at sites that will be familiar to many of our clients, before travelling deeper into Sri Lanka and the areas most affected by the brutal civil war and its end in 2009. He explores the contradictions inherent in a country with so much beauty and gentleness coupled with so much horror. John looks unflinchingly at all sides and finds human mistakes and a sense that this was a conflict that no one knew how to end. He is balanced and avoids apportioning blame. He also explores what unites Sri Lankans as well as what divides them.

It’s a very good read and just like John’s experience, I think readers will be torn between the difficult sections covering the war and its aftermath and the beauty, fun and spontaneity of the country at the same time.

I’d thoroughly recommend the book to anyone interested in travel and in Sri Lanka. 

For anyone who’d like to follow in John’s footsteps and discover for yourself what makes Sri Lanka such a beguiling country, have a look at our Sri Lanka holidays or call us on 020 7924 7133 and we can discuss ideas for your own trip.


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