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Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka's Hidden War [Paperback]

Frances Harrison
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Jun 2013
The tropical island of Sri Lanka is a paradise for tourists, but in 2009 it became a hell for its Tamil minority, as decades of civil war between the Tamil Tiger guerrillas and the government reached its bloody climax. Caught in the crossfire were hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, doctors, farmers, fishermen, nuns and other civilians. And the government ensured through a strict media blackout that the world was unaware of their suffering. Now, a UN enquiry has called for war-crimes investigations. Those crimes are recounted here to the wider world for the first time in sobering, shattering detail.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (6 Jun 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846274702
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846274701
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.8 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 248,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Frances Harrison was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, as well as the School of Oriental & African Studies, and Imperial College in London. For many years she worked as a foreign correspondent for the BBC posted in South Asia, South East Asia and Iran. From 2000-4 she was the resident BBC Correspondent in Sri Lanka. She has worked at Amnesty International as Head of News and while writing this book was a visiting research fellow at Oxford University.
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"groundbreaking and utterly compelling" Sydney Morning Herald.

"this story has had too little impact. With luck, this book can help change that." The Guardian.

"..the appalling scenes recounted here provide the sharpest possible rebuke to those who might feel comfortable with the idea of a peace won in this way. More to the point, they raise doubts as to whether the Tamil and Sinhalese populations are likely to be able to move forward until both have faced up to their shared history". The Financial Times.

"Harrison's book contains a collection of grim facts that begin to establish an account of the events of early 2009 from a macro standpoint (referencing facts from reliable sources) complemented hauntingly by individual stories of human tragedy. It is the latter that makes it such a heart-breaking read, from the story of the teacher who suffered a "miscarriage on the beach at the climax of the war" to the young woman who alleges she was brutally raped by drunk police in cells." Uncovering the Truth About Sri Lanka's Civil War: a Painful But Urgent Task, Emanuel Stoakes, 12 Oct 2012

"Grasping an underreported and extremely complex subject, Harrison demonstrates journalism at its best by backing up her emotive portraits with hard facts and figures. As a new UN inquiry calls for further investigation into the atrocities committed by both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil rebel fighters, Harrison tells more than figures ever could by bringing to light the human cost of war." Huffington Post, 3 Oct 2012

"Still Counting the Dead adds a new layer of detail to the conflict. We come to know the 10 survivors intimately and get a sense of what it was like for Tamil civilians living through the horror". Book Review: The War the World Forgot, AlertNet, 1 Oct 2012

Product Description


An extraordinary book. This dignified, just and unbearable account of the dark heart of Sri Lanka needs to be read by everyone who upholds human rights. As a Sri Lankan myself, knowing what I do about the war, I was very moved by Harrison's beautiful clear prose, her straightforward retelling of the complex situation there, and her refusal to compromise the evidence. Every member of the UN Security Council should be sent a copy of this book - Roma Tearne, author, MosquitoVery important, and very timely... makes the full horror of the last months of the war almost unbearably real - Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and JusticeHarrison demonstrates journalism at its best - Helena Williams, Huffington PostHarrison reclaims the human catastrophe from the statistics - Steve Crawshaw, ObserverGripping and deeply disturbing - Ellen Otzen, Alert NetA heart-breaking read... [This] reminds us of the need to remember this tortured corner of modern history - Emanuel Stoakes, Huffington PostPowerful - James Crabtree, Financial Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

FRANCES HARRISON was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and at SOAS and Imperial College in London. For many years she worked as a foreign correspondent for the BBC posted in South Asia, South East Asia and Iran. From 2000-4 she was the resident BBC Correspondent in Sri Lanka. She has worked at Amnesty International as Head of News and while writing this book was a visiting research fellow at Oxford University.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is superb. Brilliantly crafted and constructed. A fitting, accurate and beautiful testament to the people - both Tamil and Sinhalese - who have suffered so much, unseen, for so long. I was in Sri Lanka working for an international aid agency 2007-09, and with a colleague, one of those expelled from the Wanni in September 2008, I am working on writing our own account of those days, and the immediate aftermath. This book is cathartic for me. It starts to relieve, in some small part, the terrible burden of guilt I feel at the inaction of the UN and international aid community of which I was a part. I wrote sitreps in the July of 2008, warning of a 'step change' in the conflict, and of a massive humanitarian catastrophe that was about to unfold. I was stymied by my agency for internal political reasons (they didn't want an influx of 'difficult' relief workers to upset the Sinhalese senior management team, at least one of whom was later revealed as a government spy), and the agency continued to screen out the all too awful reality that continued to unfold. Shameful for an agency committed, in theory at least, to 'humanitarian protection'. They all need to be named and shamed.

The worst part has been not being able to fully explain to people what it was like. And this book does it, brilliantly. Please read it. Please tell others to read. Its too late to help those who died and suffered during this dreadful period, but as the book makes clear, the suffering continues under what can only be described as an Apartheid state that no one, until now, seemed to care about.

Be warned, that as recognition of this book grows, so will the ill-informed and hateful comments, no doubt the reviews that feature with no stars. Ranting, irrational attacks on the author and those who like this book. But that, in its own way, is merely illustrating the central thesis of this book.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why are 20 Oct 2012
Stalin said that "One death a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic" and I suppose the difficulty for many with getting their head around accounts and histories of genocide and persecution is the sheer scale of the horror. In this balanced, well-written and authoritative book, Frances Harrison has managed to overcome the paradox that Stalin mentioned by documenting survivor testimony in a compelling form from nine survivors of the final months of the conflict.

Each chapter consists of a well written story telling the experience of each survivor and then ends with a couple of pages providing facts and figures on the situation. Thus Frances provides the emotional power and involvement of a short story (but these stories are very real) along with the academic rigour and context of a textbook. Frances' background as a BBC journalist means that she is able to concisely explain the context and nuances of a situation to those not familiar with Sri Lanka.

Frances deftly weaves fact with evocative description taken from interviews with these survivors to uncover the horror of this conflict. The shocking thing about this conflict is that the death toll and the horror of the conflict puts it in the same league as Afghanistan, Iraq or Darfur but few know about it.

It's worth reading and then worth considering why the world kept silent about it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No words to describe! 21 Jan 2013
By Roxanne
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Extremely well written, brings tears to your eyes, it's clear that the writer has a deep understanding of life in many parts of Sri Lanka. The stories narrated are great examples of life from various perspectives, demonstrating the pain, strength, and fear in an unbiased way. The stories reflect upon the wrong doing of multiple sides against each other and towards one another. The stories demonstrate that great acts of kindness between strangers occurred during desperate times. It's hard to believe that these are real people and real stories, it would be great to translate this book into Tamil and Sinhala!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True story 28 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Failure of the United nation to safeguard the civilians which lead to the cold blooded killings of innocent Tamil civilians in the island nation.Written by Frances Harrison, a former BBC journalist tells an unbiased shocking information of the fate of innocent civilians.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heartwrenching 12 Feb 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An explosive book that rips apart any notion that the country is as peaceful as its holiday brochure pictures of sea, sand and solitude. I lived and worked in Kandy 1992 / 93 when the war was not as prevelant as prior to, or after, those two years and was in Colombo the day that President Premadasa was assassinated, Mayday, 1993.

An excellent piece of writing that rightly condemns the International Community for doing absolutely nothing. For all the talk and rhetoric that has been expounded since the Holocaust, that such events should never happen again - we, as a human race, just never learn.

To read of such horrors, inflicted by both sides, on a people and in a country that I love, will send waves of dispair through any reader who knows of this "serendipitous" island.

How the International Community allowed this to happen is beyond comprehension. How International Governments and Aid Organisations turned away from those in desperate need cannot be understood by mere mortals such as myself.

To see the Country with a Government that is now rife with nepotism has proved to me that any thought of revisiting that land is not going to happen!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read for travellers and humnatarians alike
Going to Sri Lanka next month, certainly an eye opening read and the nature of the chapters means you can just flip it open and read one story anywhere in the book!
Published 12 days ago by R MCNALLY
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, written from a neutral standpoint from the perspective ...
Amazing , written from a neutral standpoint from the perspective of those who were actually involved and effected. A civil war that effected so many and tore a country apart.
Published 23 days ago by Anuja J Gupta
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most powerful books I have ever read
I picked up this book, completely ignorant of the Sri Lanka civil war: ignorant that it had lasted for decades, ignorant of the rocky and ultimately failed peace process brokered... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Pale Jesson
1.0 out of 5 stars One-sided and inaccurate
Harrison capitalizes on her position as a BBC correspondent to write this biased tome full of half-truths and outright fibs in order to demonize a Sri Lankan government that booted... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Indopithecus
5.0 out of 5 stars a must read
The truth about the last months of the rout of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Evidence by the accounts of some of the survivors. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Lorna Skinner
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Book
It has been written by someone who is fully aware of the geography of Sri Lanka in particular the Tamil areas and the political knowledge and ambition of the Sri Lankan Govt. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Chelliah Krishnamoorthy
5.0 out of 5 stars Fearless FRANCES HARRISON
many thanks for the writter, the Srilankan governtment with many other countrys help destroyed massive minority population. other serviving peoples still controled armed forcess. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Thusharaha
5.0 out of 5 stars Still counting dead
Good insight review. Good attempt made to highlight what happened and sad plight of civilians. ..... .... .... .... .... .... .... ..... .... ....
Published 19 months ago by Dan
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