Shehan Karunatilaka was born in Sri Lanka in 1975 and describes growing up in Colombo “amidst bombs and curfews,” the kind of language the colorful characters in his debut, The Legend of Pradeep Mathew (Graywolf), might use. The novel—which recently won the $50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature—tells the story of an aging sportswriter with a bad liver who heads out with a friend to search Sri Lanka for the title’s legendary cricket bowler, uncovering secrets about the country and encountering a six-fingered coach and a Tamil Tiger warlord.

Having also lived in London, Karunatilaka got the novel’s idea while on a vacation to see the Police play a gig at Madison Square Garden and was inspired to quit his job and try his hand at writing. .

“In this case, the research involved watching cricket in the mornings and hanging out with drunks in the afternoon. Didn’t seem like hard work, even though it was,” says Karunatilaka. “To write the book, I had to become a cricket obsessive for two years.”

Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae first heard buzz about the novel while she was visiting India. When she arrived back in the U.S., Random House UK had submitted the novel for consideration. “It’s an exuberant book,” McCrae says. “It’s rare to find something that relishes in itself that way.”