Book Review: The Gentiles: A History of Sri Lanka 1498-1833 by Agnes Padmini Thambynayagam

51RHcDInmAL._SL250_This is a very curious book about the history of Sri Lanka, which was ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British for over five hundred years. One of the main points of the book is to look at the influences of western culture on the Sri Lankan people. Even though, it is obvious that influences of colonizers are vast, there are not many systematic studies that address this issue. The author looks at pertinent historical archives and aims to interpret them in order to answer questions about Sri Lanka and its people. Most of the time, the author uses lesser-known sources of history, which were not used in previous studies. And of course, with interpretation and more obscure sources comes controversy, since some speculations and assumptions have to be made, which may not be appealing to everyone.

The subject is very personal to the author, since she was born and grew up in Sri Lanka. Most of the research for the book was done, while at the University of Oxford. The book is well-written, easy to follow, and full of beautiful color images, which include maps, drawings, and photographs. Covering about 350 years of history, starting with Vasco Da Gama in 1498 and finishing with British in 1800’s, the author structures the book really well in focusing on the effects of the “gentiles” (who are Portuguese, Dutch, and British) on the development of social institutions, transformation of religious practices, evolution of language, and establishment of educational system. The text is an excellent piece of research (with extensive bibliography), which is not boring to read and can be appreciated by a wide audience of readers with some interest in learning more about colonization and its effects on an island like Sri Lanka. Looking at current American foreign policies and U.S. government’s attempt to change and influence lives of people in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, it is critical to learn more about past experiences with imperialism and spread of western culture.

The Gentiles: A History of Sri Lanka 1498-1833
Agnes Padmini Thambynayagam
Author House (2009)
ISBN 9781449023515
Reviewed by Andrey Bilko for RebeccasReads (04/10)

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