Dr. Gamini Goonetilleke F. R. C. S. has brought out a book containing his experiences as a surgeon in a strife-torn Sri Lanka when the deadliest phase of a war between the armed forces of the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.) was in progress. The book is titled “The Extra [...]


One man’s dedicated mission in dangerous times


Dr. Gamini Goonetilleke F. R. C. S. has brought out a book containing his experiences as a surgeon in a strife-torn Sri Lanka when the deadliest phase of a war between the armed forces of the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.) was in progress. The book is titled “The Extra Mile – A Surgeon’s Experiences”.

A careful reader will conclude that the title is an understatement. The distance travelled far exceeds “The Extra Mile”. As such, what this book requires is not a “review” but a “view”. That is, the book must be read. It must be read because it is worth reading. In fact it would be rewarding.

I am stating this in a context where the reading habit as we used to know it has virtually disappeared. Apart from the exceptional few, what one witnesses today is people spending large chunks of time in agreeable diversions of tittle tattle on ubiquitous social media. Attention spans have visibly shrunk so much so, that reading a fair sized book would be felt as a feat of physical and mental endurance. Therefore, a book like Gamini’s would likely be read by far  fewer people than it deserves.

The book consists of multiple levels of relevance and interest. At the simplest level it is the story of a young surgeon who on a professional journey in a challenging environment grew progressively in stature and achievement.

At another level it is a riveting adventure story replete with excitement, danger and even life-threatening experiences in a war-torn Sri Lanka in the 90’s and the first decade of the 21st century. Some of the experiences described have the qualities of the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock film.

At a different level, the book is educative. It deals with surgical processes and procedures devised to meet particular situations. But the narrative avoids long or tedious technical jargon so much so that a lay person could read it with both interest and profit. The author has skilfully introduced the technical detail without interrupting the flow of a lively fast moving memoir full of human interest.

At a deeper level the book is a reflection of the author’s intense Catholic faith and his unqualified trust in God, a God who inspired him to sometimes, punishingly dedicated efforts to save life and limb, many times on occasions when all seemed to be lost. This faith and inspiration carried the author into areas beyond any possible call of normal duty or what could be termed normal high professional standards.

Finally, the book reveals a colourful and complex portrait of an extraordinary individual. Colourful, because he is possessed of an innate sense of adventure and daring, and an interest in the unusual and unconventional. Complex, because combined with these is a high class professional work ethic. Above all, it  was a sheer attitude that led him to a belief, and indeed a conviction that if there was a problem, there had somewhere and somehow to be a solution and in the relentless pursuit of which, he forgot personal convenience and comfort, family, leisure, or other human felicities. In this pursuit, if he didn’t know something, he would somehow obtain the material and read up and study the subject. Then he would responsibly and cautiously experiment and innovate. Then he would implement with decisiveness.

The book is eminently readable and contains interesting and heartwarming individual accounts of people as well as photographs that hold one’s attention. The narrative is clear and concise.

The book combines the fascinating endeavours of a single person as well as a concise military history of the war with the LTTE. Packed in are also academic pursuits, building bridges among communities, rescuing prisoners in LTTE custody and much more.

Gamini’s personality unfolds through the action.

The reader would experience the book as a panorama consisting of various strands and colours out of which emerges a personality which bears out the Latin saying “Laborare est orare” which means “to strive, to labour is to pray”.

If one were to read the book with due attention, that person would gain inspiration from the contemplation of what just one person can do, while living in an environment where so many are engaged in advancing elegant reasons as to why so many things cannot be done.

Book facts
The Extra Mile: A Surgeon’s Experiences – by Dr. Gamini GoonetillekeReviewed by Desamanya
M. D. D. PierisPrice: Rs. 3,000


Flashback to life amidst war at book launch

Dr. Gamini Goonetilleke presenting the book to Charith Kulathilaka. Pix by Nilan Maligaspe

It was the felicitation of a seasoned surgeon who had done yeoman service in the outstations and the war-torn North, when Dr. Gamini Goonetilleke’s memoirs, The Extra Mile: A Surgeon’s Experiences, was launched at the College of Surgeons auditorium on Thursday.

With pictorial reminiscences of an almost five decade career, speeches by distinguished colleagues and people whose lives he had saved including war heroes, it was a veritable celebration of a life lived on the edge under gunfire, in a theatre of war.

Amidst highlights of the launch were the tributes paid by peer Prof. Anula Wijesundere, former Chairman George Steuarts Ltd Somasundaran Skandakumar and young Charith Kulathilaka, the ex-soldier and musical phenomenon whose life was saved against great odds by Dr. Goonetilleke. The book was sold at a special price to guests.

Prof. Anula Wijesundere addressing the gathering








A section of the audience at the book launch

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