Upon A Sleepless Isle
Nominated | Book Awards 2020 | English Non-fiction
Upon A Sleepless Isle
Dense green forests in Yala, white-sand coasts in Trincomalee, azure waters off the south coast, Anuradhapura’s ancient temples, and cricket. Civil war, political assassinations, internally displaced communities, industrial-scale corruption. All are Sri Lanka. As are smug bureaucrats, nosy neighbours, and stray dogs with serious axes to grind. Through the eyes of Andrew Fidel Fernando, cricket writer par excellence, both a local and a tourist in his home country, Sri Lanka comes alive as he hurtles down hills in Kandy, breathes in the history at the rock fortress of Sigiriya, grapples with the aftermath of war in Jaffna, and has himself evicted from restaurants near Galle. Weaving through all manner of villages, paddy fields, mountains, jungles and marshlands, and pausing for the pests at grimy guesthouses and the vacationers of luxury hotels, Fernando has the time for every genre of person and wildlife in this chaotic, exquisite, frustrating, bewitching, tumultuous and intoxicating land. Hilariously witty yet wistfully sombre, Upon a Sleepless Isle is the story of a country and a people caught between long historical traditions and global capitalism, resulting in this ingenious paradise.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is a Colombo-based writer and satirist, working mainly for ESPNcricinfo. He travels, eats, cooks, scuba dives, regularly bungles all of the above, and relishes collecting stories that grapple with history and lay bare the soul of a place, particularly in his native Sri Lanka. This book, a labour of love, is his first.
The book portrays Sri Lanka like never before.
- Deccan Herald
Fernando’s adventures here are truly adventurous: crashing a tuk-tuk to receiving a scar as prize, staying at dubious guesthouses, vicious dog chases, unreliable buses… but when he weaves tales, combining history and religion with his multi-cultural family, one can’t wait to keep turning the pages. It’s a heartfelt, compelling read indeed.
- Outlook Traveller
A fresh perspective on Sri Lanka, warts and all, laced with humour and empathy.
A sports writer, Fernando’s travelogue, full of vivid descriptions of his country, is both engaging and entertaining. The funniest anecdote involves the author being chased by dogs for the entire duration of his stay in a village. Though, at one point, it feels a little stretched, the punch line makes up for its extraordinary length. The other hilarious part is right at the start of the book when Fernando describes his attempt to extract a national identity card from the Sri Lankan bureaucracy. It is an episode that will resonate with Indians whose lives were put on hold until they got their Aadhar cards.