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.

Upon a Sleepless Isle Details

TitleUpon a Sleepless Isle
Author
ReleaseJun 27th, 2019
PublisherPan Macmillan India
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Travel

Upon a Sleepless Isle Review

  • Apurva Nagpal
    January 1, 1970
    3.5⭐Upon a Sleepless Isle by Andrew Fidel Fernando is a mesmerising travelogue of the author’s experience travelling through Sri Lanka and I have to say, I cannot wait to visit there myself after reading the book.The author has captured the essence of the streets, the people, the wildlife, the culture and little things that make a place someone’s home beautifully.He reflects back to the people he met on his journey, on a bus or on a trishaw, the unusual conversations he shared with them, the pla 3.5⭐️Upon a Sleepless Isle by Andrew Fidel Fernando is a mesmerising travelogue of the author’s experience travelling through Sri Lanka and I have to say, I cannot wait to visit there myself after reading the book.The author has captured the essence of the streets, the people, the wildlife, the culture and little things that make a place someone’s home beautifully.He reflects back to the people he met on his journey, on a bus or on a trishaw, the unusual conversations he shared with them, the places he saw and stayed at with such a nice eye for detail.Heartwarming and playfully witty in places, I really enjoyed reading this one.He doesn’t shy away from penning down the things he doesn’t quite like about the place or certain cultures but you can tell how much the author is in love with the place and that’s why I recommend the book!
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  • Sairam Krishnan
    January 1, 1970
    A sparkling, funny, and enjoyable travelogue, Upon a Sleepless Isle is a lovely, light read. I came to it because I have read Fernando’s cricket writing for a long time now, and knew that this was going to be good. He brings that same depth, flavour, and wit to the book that makes his cricket writing such a joy. He loves Sri Lanka, you can tell, but he also does not ignore its weaknesses, dark undercurrents, and complexities. Since this is not that kind of a book, he does not dwell on them; he k A sparkling, funny, and enjoyable travelogue, Upon a Sleepless Isle is a lovely, light read. I came to it because I have read Fernando’s cricket writing for a long time now, and knew that this was going to be good. He brings that same depth, flavour, and wit to the book that makes his cricket writing such a joy. He loves Sri Lanka, you can tell, but he also does not ignore its weaknesses, dark undercurrents, and complexities. Since this is not that kind of a book, he does not dwell on them; he kind-of leads you there, shows you what might be there beneath the surface, and moves on, thus giving you enough nuance to go further if you want to.Fernando is a very good writer. I look forward to more from him, perhaps a cricket book. Even a compilation of his cricket essays is something I would buy. But for now, this I can say: I will be reading this book again before I travel to Ceylon. And because of this book, it might be sooner than I’d planned.
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  • Sanjana Hattotuwa
    January 1, 1970
    Through a dozen chapters, covering the author’s journey across the length and breadth of Sri Lanka, country, cities, communities and context are captured with an unerring eye for detail. Foreign readers unfamiliar with the country will no doubt appreciate the artful turn of phrase and skill at prose, both of which, astonishingly, are far better than more seasoned authors I’ve read. But the book is by an observant, sensitive, empathetic, domiciled Sri Lankan, for Sri Lankans. The importance of th Through a dozen chapters, covering the author’s journey across the length and breadth of Sri Lanka, country, cities, communities and context are captured with an unerring eye for detail. Foreign readers unfamiliar with the country will no doubt appreciate the artful turn of phrase and skill at prose, both of which, astonishingly, are far better than more seasoned authors I’ve read. But the book is by an observant, sensitive, empathetic, domiciled Sri Lankan, for Sri Lankans. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Avoiding the self-indulgent smugness of Samanth Subramanian’s ‘This Divided Island’, and far more aligned with the empathetic gaze of Rohini Mohan’s ‘The Seasons of Trouble’, Fernando’s prose isn’t about proving authenticity or a parade of revelations otherwise inaccessible or unknown to those from Sri Lanka. ‘Upon a Sleepless Isle’ is as Sri Lankan as arrack and EGB, written from an insider-partial perspective that, when necessary and effortlessly, informs a Tiresian critique of society, politics, culture, community and country.Familiar to those who read and love Fernando’s cricket commentary, the book offers an entirely original capture of island life through dexterous device. Government departments are “staffed by people who considered arriving at work their primary task for the day”. Maithripala Sirisena “may well be remembered as one of history’s great invertebrates”. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s personal motto is “making Sri Lanka wildly prosperous, one immediate family member at a time”. And if this is good, Fernando’s capture of Sri Lanka’s real wildlife is even better. Never before have the sex lives of Minneriya’s young bull elephants and Mannar’s donkeys been so engagingly and effortlessly entwined into profound insights on loss of habitat, livelihoods, development, communal relations, the human-elephant conflict and ravages of war. Inhabitants of cities – women, children and men drawn from diverse backgrounds – are captured through both contemporary and historical frames, projecting their worldview, location or livelihood through an empathetic gaze supported by significant scholarship. Fernando’s research is meticulous and offers both original and captivating insights for even the seasoned reader of non-fiction on Sri Lanka. From nuanced capture of historical figures like Saradiel and Keppetipola Disawe to individuals encountered on his travels, the author uses – with great skill – stories recounted to him and the surroundings he finds himself in for a night or two to prise open and lay bare Sri Lanka’s multi-layered character. It is here the book is most removed from say a Rough Guide to Sri Lanka, which would rely on tired tropes to satiate the passing tourist’s gaze, instead of Fernando’s studied, nuanced and ultimately, more honest appraisal – warts and all.‘Upon a Sleepless Isle’ is part travelogue, part ethnographic pastiche and all wit. With unerring accuracy, the book captures a sense of place and space down to taste and smell. The visitor is offered a complex country that doesn’t quite make sense, but works somehow, much to the incredulity of those who inhabit it as well. The Sri Lankan reader is offered fresh insights into a familiar loathing and love of country, which for many of us unceremoniously co-habit in our negotiation of everyday life. Fernando occupies himself with individuals even I would never encounter or choose to stay overnight with (the descriptions of phantasmagoric lodgings and their trappings were primary reason for spills, choking and belly-laughs). And yet, in the capture of post-war realities, religious tensions, deep ethnic binds, feral wildlife, febrile politician, imagined place or geographic space, Fernando never once exoticizes.There are, however, unpardonable errors. Fernando suggests that any traditional Sinhala wedding features a groom dressed up in Kandyan attire, and a woman decked out in an osari. The violence of this is considerable, for which the author must be held accountable by retraction or correction in the second edition. No one, absolutely no one, save for Kandyans – and even then, not without an abundance of hesitation – dresses up on their wedding day to walk like constipated ducks, bedecked in a costume that is in effect a bejewelled condom guaranteeing the impossibility of any conjugal or even convivial relations between the couple till summarily disposed of. The penultimate chapter features a capture of private school alumnus, in which the author invents a new school – St Thomas’ College. As an old boy of S. Thomas’ College, which if Fernando had had the good fortune to attend, would have learnt how to spell correctly, this error could have been forgiven were it not for the unnecessarily unkind and entirely inaccurate capture that follows. Neither have I ever used the truly awful, classist phrases attributed to alumnus from these two private schools, nor have I once heard those who went to either school use this terrible turn of phrase. A fiercely egalitarian spirit deeply ingrained in the DNA of S. Thomas’ is absent in Fernando’s writing, with even a caricature of school rendered unrecognisable by uncharacteristic imprecision.Chapter 9, anchored to Killinochchi and Fernando’s travels to Jaffna, was for personal reasons particularly poignant. The author is too young to have travelled to or past the Killinochchi or Elephant Pass that existed during the Ceasefire Agreement, from 2002-2005. The pregnant capture of what it is like today, quite unexpectedly, brought a flow of memories of what the city and region were like nearly two decades ago, when I first travelled there. The author’s grandfather, after watching the 7 pm news during the war, we are told, would with a forlorn look and deep sigh say a variation of “Terrible thing no, this war? Whoever they are fighting for, they are all somebody’s son or daughter, isn’t it? Just imagine. All human lives. Our very own people”. I confess I put the book down as I finished this chapter because it was hard just to keep on reading. But what greater measure of an author’s talent, than to unshackle the darkest memory from deepest recess?A final word on the full-colour illustrations which capture key moments of Fernando’s travel and travails. For reasons best known to Picador India, the artist’s name isn’t mentioned, which is a travesty. The illustrations, resembling the work of Richard Gabriel from the ’43 Group, are beautiful, complementing Fernando’s sublime writing. One hopes that a revised edition openly recognises the significant talent behind these drawings.Buy ‘Upon a Sleepless Isle’. Gift it. If after Easter Sunday, utterly banal Lonely Planet writing by foreigners who parachute into country is what we tweet about and share to make ourselves feel and look good, Fernando’s book deserves much more publicity. Between this book’s covers is a compelling capture of Sri Lanka’s irrepressible character and a textured patina of life, love and loss. Here is a text, like a long-term partner who snores, farts unapologetically and picks nose in public, which is embarrassing at times and even insulting at first blush or encounter, but you grow to love truly. Fernando is Sri Lanka’s karuthacolomban of new authors. Anyone who disagrees deserves a fate no less violent than the peacock towards the end of this book. You simply must read it to find out.###First published in The Sunday Island, 14 July 2019.
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  • Esme Kennerley
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book! Full of horrifying and heartwarming stories, I really enjoyed how Sri Lankan history was interwoven seamlessly with the author’s personal travel memoirs. The author was refreshingly and hilariously honest throughout, showing both the negative and positive sides to Sri Lanka in a way that often had me laughing. A beautifully written book, I highly recommend reading it.
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  • Thimal
    January 1, 1970
    Stacked on a shelf in Barefoot Gallery(or what I consider to be the beating heart of bourgeois Colombo) is a book alluring titled “Upon a Sleepless Isle”. The first few pages contains an artfully drawn picture of a map of Sri lanka with all the “popular destinations” marked out.I sigh inwardly and begin to wonder whether I have fallen for a tourist trap,blinded by my borderline obsequious admiration of the author.I fire off a slightly passive aggressive tweet.But little did I know that Andrew ha Stacked on a shelf in Barefoot Gallery(or what I consider to be the beating heart of bourgeois Colombo) is a book alluring titled “Upon a Sleepless Isle”. The first few pages contains an artfully drawn picture of a map of Sri lanka with all the “popular destinations” marked out.I sigh inwardly and begin to wonder whether I have fallen for a tourist trap,blinded by my borderline obsequious admiration of the author.I fire off a slightly passive aggressive tweet.But little did I know that Andrew has indeed pulled off a clever trick. The barrage of exoticization,whites-planing promised by the cover is more or less absent and in it’s place remains a truly unique and heartfelt account of what is like to travel around the country and have perspectives which do not come with agendas.The narrative of this novel has the feel of a diary and the anecdotes contained within it are poignant and nuanced.If you wish to gather an understanding about the style of writing which is so unique to the AFF experience, take a look at his work on ESPNCricinfo.But in my opinion what truly binds you to the novel is the perspectives offered by Andrew upon every destination of travel, be it on post-war Jaffna to the workings of the “palatial” Hambanthota District Secretariat.I loved this book and if there was any critique that an absolute poser like me can offer is that it is that the journal like narrative may lead to some fatigue after a while. There is also a tendency by Andrew to slightly overdo the metaphor but those are personal points of critique.9/10 would recommend to buy.
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  • Damith S
    January 1, 1970
    A superb introduction to Sri Lanka for visitors, but also a terrific examination of the island for locals. Fernando keeps the tone light (there are plenty of laughs) but doesn't balk at tackling the island's many complexities. His Sri Lanka is multi-layered and both infuriating and enchanting at the same time. There is a host of characters in this book. Despite it being a travelogue, so many of the people Fernando introduces seem to serve a narrative purpose. A must read.
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  • Minoli
    January 1, 1970
    2.5 starsThe first thing that strikes you when you start reading, is how beautiful the writing is. The words truly paint pictures, and it's a rare joy. That's the only thing that made me plough through the first half of the book. The content was not nuanced at all, and I often wondered if this is a tourism-propaganda piece for the white man from the West. There was an exoticisation of the country sprinkled with the age-old worn nostalgia that immediately put me off.But, towards the end of the bo 2.5 starsThe first thing that strikes you when you start reading, is how beautiful the writing is. The words truly paint pictures, and it's a rare joy. That's the only thing that made me plough through the first half of the book. The content was not nuanced at all, and I often wondered if this is a tourism-propaganda piece for the white man from the West. There was an exoticisation of the country sprinkled with the age-old worn nostalgia that immediately put me off.But, towards the end of the book, Fernando saves it. The writing becomes more nuanced, he tries - and gets quite close to succeeding - to capture the multi-faceted nature of the country and the way its people deal with it. There were a couple of times that I choked up. The ending, that last couple of paragraphs that talk about the people hit home. I finally found a paragraph that puts to words how I feel - pg 242/243.And that's how what would have gotten 1 star, ended with 2.5. It was a very weak, boring, hackneyed start. But ends with a complexity we all can relate to.
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