A single mother and her teenage son navigate life and culture in South Asia.
Within days of her sojourn to Sri Lanka in 2001, American-born Barker was met with immense sympathy for her homeland and its citizens—she had arrived just three weeks after 9/11. Feeling the need for a change of pace, Barker sought out teaching assignments and was commissioned to teach 19th- and 20th-century Russian literature to Sri Lankan university students. Her own cultural education of the region began almost immediately. With son Noah in tow, the author settled in the religious town of Kandy, drawing much attention as the “white lady tourist.” “Thirteen time zones removed” from her home base, the author immersed herself in the area’s customs and traditions, noting special holidays, frequent power outages and wet/dry seasons. The conditions of their ramshackle house included face-offs with ant colonies, geckos, spiders, monkeys, mosquitoes and ravenous rats. Though he’d acclimated adequately to the terrain, Barker constantly fretted about Noah, knowing that she “uprooted him from everything that grounded him.” As the center of Buddhist culture on the island, Barker notes that Kandy is full of opportunities for personal prayer and serenity, but she also devotes equal time to the region’s great history of civil unrest, the deadly war games that are downplayed in the media to stabilize tourism and the race, language and religious conflicts that have plagued Sri Lanka for decades. Though Barker reports firsthand on the devastation of the 2004 tsunami, her travels are conservatively tepid in comparison to other like-minded travelogues.
Intelligently written but overly timid.