Sri Lanka

In May 2009, Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long civil war came to an end with the government’s defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (known as the Tamil Tigers). The long conflict had brought a range of horrific abuses: deliberate shelling of civilian areas; suicide bombing of civilian targets; enforced disappearances; rape; forced conscription, including child soldiers; and the use of civilians as human buffers. In 2011 a UN panel of experts made preliminary findings that these abuses were violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law and that some could even amount to crimes against humanity. This prompted the current international investigation into the allegations by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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Two government acts shaped Tina Faulk’s life: Ceylon’s 1956 Official Language Policy Act, known as the Sinhala Only Act, and Australia’s Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, better known as the White Australia policy. The first virtually disenfranchised not only Faulk’s Burgher community, but also Sinhalese and Tamil middle-class élites, whose primary language, outside the family circle, was English. Countless Burghers were civil servants and, even if multilingual, were now unable to compete with Sinhalese-educated people for post-Independence public service positions. Similar selection criteria applied to military and commercial jobs.

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The Gooneratnes’ mountain bungalow, overlooking rippling tea plantations, is called Pemberley, after Mr Darcy’s mansion. A wall plaque commemorates Elizabeth Bennet’s description of it. In the style of a modern Jane Austen, Yasmine Gooneratne takes up the enduring and universal question of who will marry whom, as Vikram Seth did in his mega-novel A Suitable Boy (1994), and at similarly entertaining length. The topic is Bollywood’s favourite too, but before writing The Sweet and Simple Kind, Professor Gooneratne, a specialist in eighteenth-century fiction and poetry, had not seen the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

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