Mr Fernando led me into a dark room that was lined with book-cases and smelled of leather and damp. The polished, concrete floor of the library was covered with white jasmine flowers that had blown through the windows during the storm. He began to select from the shelves a collection of disintegrating books. `If you are going to read any of them, it should really be this one,' he said as he passed me two thick volumes, embossed with gold lettering and spotted with damp. The work was simply called Ceylon and was written by an Irishman named Sir James Emerson Tennent, who had been sent to the island in 1845 by Her Majesty's Government.
When Cherry Briggs discovers the writings of an eccentric Victorian writer and explorer, she decided to retrace his footsteps across modern-day Sri Lanka, to the very heart of a country torn apart by the Boxing Day tsunami and years of civil war, venturing into restricted areas of the former war-zone and delving under the surface of contemporary culture via fortune tellers, pilgrimage trails, tea estates and cricket matches.