When John Toner, a retired Cleveland judge, decided in 1990 to spend a month with his son in war-torn Sri Lanka, he was as much a stranger to his seventh child as to the hardships of life in a third world country. This is a chronicle of the month they spent together in the poorest of conditions.
I didn't invite him. The idea was all my father's, my seventy-four-year-old father who had never been outside America and who suddenly thought that Sri Lanka, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer, would be a jolly place to visit. When John Toner, a retired Cleveland judge, decided on a whim in April 1990 to spend a month with his son in war-torn Sri Lanka, he was as much a stranger to his seventh - and last - child as he was to the hardships of life in a Third World country. Serendib chronicles the journey that follows as a father and son who have never been alone together live in close quarters, in the poorest of conditions - and replace awkwardness and distance with understanding and love. Along the way are the stories of John learning to eat with his fingers, bathing in a river alongside cows, and trading his wool trousers for a traditional sarong. We witness his coming face-to-face with a Hindu priest in a loincloth and his first encounter with the everyday violence of a country at war with itself. John watches with awe as students learn without computers, books, or even paper; he bonds with Sri Lankan children and learns, once again, how to give and how to play. Each new experience pushes Jim's father to face his fears - and brings him closer to his youngest son. Serendib offers a colorful, humorous, and touching account of multiple discoveries - of an old man exploring deep within himself, of a father and son finding each other, and of two cultures coming together on uncommon ground and awakening to the joy and hope of the life they share.
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Serendib is winning and moving. More than the epic paternal story, Jim Toner's book becomes a cross-cultural tale in which a son comes to understand his own heritage against the backdrop of a strange land. It vividly portrays the mythic journey we all must take and the cultural journey we all should take--a very fine book.
--Steven Harvey "author of Bound for Shady Grove "
Serendib is a compelling and urgent memoir. The writing is stunning, the characters fascinating and memorable, the locale of war-torn Sri Lanka, exotic. This is a story full of love, innocence, and spirituality. Very little contemporary literature possesses such sweet power.
--Sue William Silverman "author of Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You "
Serendib is filled with scenes that both lay bare and redefine the relationship between father and son. . . . Because of this, and because of Toner's insightful prose, Serendib is an impressive first book.
Peace Corps volunteer Jim Toner relates the story of his 74-year-old Irish-Catholic father's unexpected visit to Sri Lanka in Serendib. Conservative, retired judge John Toner had never been outside America; his experiences during his month on the beautiful but impoverished, civil war-torn island are wryly observed through his son's eyes. . . . This book is effective not only as a touching memoir but as an illumination of a complex and fascinating culture.
About Jim Toner
Jim Toner lives in Sonora, California, and teaches English at Columbia College.
Serendib by Jim Toner
Used - Very Good
University of Georgia Press
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