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.
Jim Toner lives in Sonora, California, and teaches English at Columbia College.
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