Colombo’s Bouqinistes

Paris may be famous for its bouquinistes, stalls selling second hand and antiquarian books lining the banks of the River Seine, but Colombo also has them. They don’t line the banks of the Beira Lake and tourists seldom find them but they are invaluable for the traveller. These wayside booksellers are to be found opposite the traffic island where D R Wijewardana Road meets T B Jayah Road, within walking distance from Maradana Railway Station.

They are extremely useful for travellers because they not only stock old books and guides about Sri Lanka and many other countries but have thousands of books that can be bought or even borrowed.

The street of bookstalls began in the 1950s when a young man from Matara, invalided out of the Royal Navy, took to collecting books from British planters who were abandoning their bungalows, and offering them for sale on the streets of Colombo. He soon realised he needed a permanent base for his collection of books, and that’s when he arrived at Maradana, later setting up in D R Wijewardana Mawatha. His original shop is no longer there but his nephew, Sarath Thewarahennadi, also from Matara, is – and he runs Sarath Books. There are now seven second-hand bookstalls on the same corner.

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INSIDE SRI LANKA – Monthly insider’s report by Royston Ellis (REDDOT – 2013/11/01)

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