A Long Watch
War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka
Commodore Ajith Boyagoda as told to Sunila Galappatti
‘The best book yet on the war in Sri Lanka. It is subtle and intimate, human and generous. The author has distilled conversations about that period into a remarkable book. It is brilliant.’ — Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient
A Long Watch offers a story of human complexity amid entrenched narratives of Sri Lanka’s long civil war.
Pulled from a dark ocean after a battle at sea, Commodore Boyagoda became the highest-ranking prisoner detained by the Tamil Tigers. For eight years, he lived at close quarters with his declared enemy, his imprisonment punctuated by high-level talks about his fate, but also by extended conversations with his jailers and scratch games of badminton played in jungle clearings. Throughout, he observed his captors and fellow prisoners acutely, and with discreet empathy for the lives of others undone by war.
A memoir retold in Ajith Boyagoda’s temperate voice, his is an unblinking relation of experiences difficult, moving and ironic. From going to sea, to war, imprisonment and eventual homecoming, he accepted successive realities as ordinary, in order to survive them.
Sunila Galappatti has worked with other people to tell their stories, as a dramaturg, theatre director and editor. She started her working life at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Live Theatre, Newcastle and is a former Director of the Galle Literary Festival. She has recently been a Fulbright Visiting Fellow at Brown University; reflecting on processes carried out in different parts of the world to curate public histories. She lives in Sri Lanka.
‘Clear, vivid, and elegant, without a trace of either false heroics or self-pity.’ — Michael Frayn
‘A moving testimonial to the depth and strangeness of human attachment. It recounts the other, greater destruction that war brings to society — the destruction of optimism, tolerance and social fibre.’ — Rana Dasgupta, author of Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First Century Delhi
‘A fascinating, moving memoir, narrated with stark honesty and elegance of thought. Commadore Boyagoda and Sunila Galappatti illuminate, to great effect, a small, dim corner of a long, heated war. A Long Watch is storytelling at its very finest.’ — Samanth Subramanian, author of This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War
‘The simple, almost matter of fact way the protagonist narrates his story throws into vivid focus the marvellous detail he gives us of the world he suddenly finds himself fallen into. His compassionate vision of the “enemy”, his fairness, shine through the pages of this book. A landmark contribution.’ — Shyam Selvadurai, author of The Hungry Ghosts
‘A deeply nuanced, non-sensational book: it is bold, yet tender. An invaluable, close-up account of the ways in which those who fight in these wars survive and don’t survive.’ — Sonali Deraniyagala, author of Wave: A Memoir of Life after the Tsunami
‘So many have tried to tell the story of war, but what A Long Watch does is much gentler, and so much harder: it makes decades of competing narratives in Sri Lanka speak to each other. Part oral history, part conversation, this book is a profound glimpse into the mind of an unlikely story teller who rejects the dichotomies of victim and oppressor. His perspective is exciting, rare and invaluable.’ — Rohini Mohan, author of The Seasons of Trouble: Life Amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Civil War
‘The only prisoner memoir to have emerged thus far from Sri Lanka’s ill-prosecuted quarter-century-long domestic conflict, A Long Watch is an informative and important contribution to an underwritten subject, most particularly because Boyagoda unashamedly rejects the ‘ruthless terrorist’ narrative his countrymen might well have expected him to uphold.’ — The Spectator
‘An engaging book on one of the bloodiest civil conflicts in South Asia. Engaging not only for its thrilling description about war, captivity and freedom, but also for its moral courage in imagining the possible future of a reconciled republic.’ — The Hindu