RELATIVE MERITS: A Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka by Yasmine Gooneratne

RELATIVE MERITS: A Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka

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Gooneratne (nee Bandaraniake) had originally planned to publish this family chronicle for members of her extended clan--the six families that once made up the political and social elite of Ceylon (Sri Lanka today). Fortunately, she was persuaded to expand and adapt it for a wider audience. She begins (rather like a Trollope novel) at a clan gathering on New Year's Day, 1875, in this dense, ironic, amusing and sometimes perplexing family chronicle. Gooneratne delves back into early family history and also details the lives of clan members she knew personally, in particular her erratic, antic, charming and often irascible father, Sammy (who late in life precipitated another family feud when he contested father Felix's will). Gooneratne also catalogues the triumphs and tragedies of her grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and sisters, including their eccentricities and scandals. These lives are played out against a backdrop of great houses and estates, of trips to Europe (particularly England), and always the lush beauty of Ceylon and its variegated people. Her older, distant cousin Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, who led Ceylon to independence, rates scant mention; as does his wife Sirimavo, the modern world's first female chief-of-state. Gooneratne also gives short shrift to developments in modern Sri Lanka: casual references to recent racial conflicts and a breakdown in law and order may leave some readers scratching their heads. But Gooneratne's prose is so richly textured, her characters so evocatively delineated that her book should find a special, if limited, audience: one that can savor the exotic, privileged, often smug world of an English-loving elite who once flourished in a distant and beautiful outpost of an Empire.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's