Reading Hasanthika Sirisena’s Dark Tourist is like sitting down with the most interesting, smartest friend you know ... intermixes memoir with history, cultural criticism, art theory, humor, and incisive, insightful commentary ... The second part of the book, Recovery, tends towards more theoretical work; however, Sirisena already has the reader in her palm, and where an essay on art theory may not seem inviting out of context, it’s compelling in this collection ... The term 'think piece' can often be used pejoratively. However, it seems that to call these works essays, though I do love essays, is to undersell how utterly compelling and thought provoking they are — and how much they make one think, long after the essays have been read. After finishing Dark Tourist, a reader should expect to spend many moments considering Sirisena’s insightful take on life and its complications. You will want to hear more about her and from her. You will tell your other interesting and smart friends, 'You need to read this book.'
The book’s jacket copy suggests the collection is organized around the titular dark tourism, which Sirisena defines as 'tours to former sites of any type of catastrophe, natural or man-made,' including war tourism. In reality the collection feels more thematically chaotic and intuitively arranged than that, which is a breath of fresh air. So many essay collections today feel forced into strict harmonies, becoming essentially full-length nonfiction narratives. The complexity and breadth of Dark Tourist complements Sirisena’s own take on meaning-making and art. This is not to say the essays don’t hold together—they do. But rather than focusing on dark tourism, per se, their connective threads lie in the author’s ability to weave their eclectic interests and associations into a cohesive fabric ... works as a collection not because of its tight cohesion but because of its moments of rupture and surprise, which work to create a pattern, unique to each reader.
Sirisena makes good use of research throughout her personal narratives, incorporating information about the mysterious Lady Windermere syndrome into a chapter about her mother’s illness, musing about an Elizabethan marriage that purportedly inspired Romeo and Juliet in a chapter about her father’s secret marriage, and describing a plane crash in the chapter about her father’s career trajectory. Several of the essays are formally inventive ... At its best, the book shimmers with honesty, vulnerability, and circumspection, and the experimental essays are both visually and textually fascinating. Taken together, however, the essays lack a common thread, making the narrative feel disjointed at times ... A solid collection about identity, art, disability, and grief, best read an essay or two per sitting.