By Ted Worthington
Armchair travelers have a lot to see in the books of John Gimlette. A British barrister based in London, Gimlette has produced a handful of excellent travel books concerning some of the most unexpected places in the world. His skill and meticulous research reveal how absolutely fascinating these infrequently traveled locales turn out to be.
As an example, take his latest book: Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka. In it, he describes the scrub land of outback Sri Lanka as more than the wasteland is seems to be, as a rich resource of ancient reservoirs constructed by inhabitants thousands of years ago, populated with a complex society of elephants.
There are few places he will not go in Sri Lanka. He tours the uplands and lowlands, the cities and the villages, the fetid jungle and the scorched sea shore to bring a detailed picture of an island nation reeling like a stunned prizefighter, trying to stay on its feet after a devastating 26-year civil war. The country is slowly healing its wounds all the while bursting with vibrancy and life that seems improbable and miraculous.
Gimlette seeks perspective on how these millions can survive, cope, even thrive as the country melds thousands of years of history into a culture unique to the world. Yet this foreign land ceases to be foreign in his hands where he is quick to note the effects his native England and other European powers have had on the land, as much as how the island has influenced the imagination and history of the Western world.
His other books include forays into the dense, seldom visited jungles of the Guianas of South America in The Wild Coast, the peculiarities of Paraguay in At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, and profound bleak beauty of Labrador and Newfoundland in Theatre of Fish. He also wrote a military travelogue in Panther Soup: Travels through Europe in War and Peace.