FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25.
Only 1 left in stock (more on the way).
Ships from and sold by Gift-wrap available.
Not Quite Paradise: An Am... has been added to your Cart
+ CDN$ 6.49 shipping
Used: Good | Details
Condition: Used: Good
Comment: Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. 100% Money Back Guarantee. Shipped to over one million happy customers.
Have one to sell?
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See all 2 images

Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka Hardcover – Jan 1 2010

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

See all 4 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price
New from Used from
Kindle Edition
"Please retry"
"Please retry"
CDN$ 24.95
CDN$ 8.46 CDN$ 0.98

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
click to open popover

Special Offers and Product Promotions

  • You'll save an extra 5% on Books purchased from, now through July 29th. No code necessary, discount applied at checkout. Here's how (restrictions apply)

No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Windows Phone
  • Android

To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (Jan. 1 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807000612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807000618
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.7 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 590 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,508,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  •  Would you like to update product info, give feedback on images, or tell us about a lower price?

Product Description


 “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.

About the Author

Adele Barker, who was awarded a Ucross Fellowship for her work on this book, is the author or editor of five books on Russian literature and cultural life. Most recently, she received a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant to teach and write in Sri Lanka.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars
5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
See the customer review
Share your thoughts with other customers

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a not travelogue. It is a current history, if that makes sense.

_Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka_ is two books: one, about Professor Adele Barker's impressions of Sri Lanka in 2001 while she was teaching at the University of Peradeniya; and, one about her 2005 journey around the post-tsunami island.

The work is an admixture of diary-like entries, event reports, and interviews of Sri Lankans. She is thorough in her information gathering and ruthless in her text editing: there is so much to tell and so little space.

As a resident of Sri Lanka during similar periods, I concur with many of Prof. Barker's observations. She captures the flavor of the Island particularly life's uncertainties exacerbated by appalling war and marauding nature.

We ex pats cannot fathom the Sri Lankan story. She is humble enough to know so and that, like much in Asia, Sri Lanka is an 'onion' of which some layers are invisible due their transparency.

Author Barker has an occasional poetic turn of phrase that makes one linger over an idea, savoring it. Her ruminations about her path's impact on her loved ones are not unique but worthy of reflection.

Should you be traveling to Sri Lanka, or should you be an armchair historian, then I heartily recommend Adele Barker's Not Quite Paradise.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again.
Report abuse

Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa6250cc0) out of 5 stars 17 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5c65834) out of 5 stars The 'pearl' of Southeast Asia: portrait of a divided and troubled island nation Jan. 28 2010
By S. McGee - Published on
Format: Hardcover
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. Given the themes that Orwell explored in his own writings, and the issues that dominate Burma/Myanmar today, that made for a brilliant work of reportage, one that gave to the writer's ruminations, random encounters and observations an overarching theme. That's missing here, and its absence nagged at me even while I enjoyed Barker's observations about such disparate topics as the difficulty of pronouncing Sinhalese, her battles with the ants, being a visible foreigner, and elephants.

Throughout the book, I kept wishing for more -- a theme, a unifying message, some kind of purpose to the book that would explain what Barker wanted to convey beyond simply -- here's an interesting place that you may only have heard about because of the tsunami. Why did Barker travel to Sri Lanka in particular -- was it a random choice by the Fulbright folks, or her choice? Her brief discussions of teaching Russian literature and Emily Dickinson's poems to the wartorn Jaffna late in the book made me wish she had found a way to integrate her teaching and her students throughout the book; it would have been more interesting than some of the rest of the content. In other parts, the reporting is too heavy-handed and self-conscious, almost as if she is looking from the outside at herself as she talks to a priest who tracks rainfall levels, or Tamils in Colombo recalling the beginning of the country's sectarian violence. Nowhere is it clear WHY she is asking these questions. What is it that motivated her to write this book? Or did she just decide, wow, if I'm going to be in Sri Lanka, a country off the beaten track, I might as well do this?

This book works well as a primer; an introduction to Sri Lanka, and would probably be a great book for anyone contemplating a trip there, or looking for some basic information to add to a Lonely Planet guidebook -- and in that context, I'd recommend it, strongly. But while Barker has some some compelling stories about intriguing individuals, but always seemed to back away when the most compelling parts of the narrative. The memoir approach, to me, didn't work: the book ended up feeling to me as if it wasn't about the tsunami, or the war, or the Tamil/Sinhalese rift, but about the author's experience of them, thoughts about them, etc. Despite its thoughtfulness and moments of compelling prose, it's a book that can't seem to make up its mind whether it's intended to be a memoir, travelogue, or something else. I wanted to love it, but couldn't.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing EarlyReviewer program.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5c65888) out of 5 stars From a Sri Lankan American point of view July 21 2010
By Christina Thurairatnam - Published on
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. She also met and made a lot of new friends both Sinhalese and Tamil and she shares their stories with us. I admired Adele's bravery in coming to a country so different to her and I like how open she was to new cultures and ways of belief. Her conversational writing style is mostly accessible and flows well. If you enjoy reading narrative nonfiction and learning about other cultures, you might enjoy Not Quite Paradise.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5c65b64) out of 5 stars Could have been two books: one of them good Nov. 7 2010
By labfs39 - Published on
Format: Hardcover
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa580209c) out of 5 stars Why Sri Lanka? March 26 2011
By L. Young - Published on
Format: Paperback
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa58020b4) out of 5 stars Adele Barker's Travels in Sri Lanka July 4 2012
By Black Plum - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Shortly after 9/11, Adele Barker and her son Noah moved to Sri Lanka for 18 months (she was teaching there.) They experienced the cultural and natural elements of this wonderful country. I really hope to travel to Sri Lanka some day. In any case, they experienced Sri Lanka's customs, cultures and various landscapes. However, in December 2004, when a terrible tsunami struck southeast Asia, Adele Barker decided that she had to go back. That's the not quite paradise part. Sri Lanka is such a beautiful country, but so many human tragedies have occurred there, including the long, bloody civil war and the uprisings before it. Barker chronicles how she hears locals tell about their experiences during the uprisings as well.

One thing I enjoyed about the book was that Barker not only included her own experiences living in Sri Lanka, but she also included some of its history (as you can see from the first few sentences.) I found the mix of history and personal experience quite interesting and effective.

*You can read all of my reviews at my blog, [...]*