A Passage North
SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE • A young man journeys into Sri Lanka’s war-torn north in this searing novel of longing, loss, and the legacy of war from the author of The Story of a Brief Marriage.
“A novel of tragic power and uncommon beauty.”—Anthony Marra
“One of the most individual minds of their generation.”—Financial Times
SHORTLISTED FOR THE DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR—Time, NPR
A Passage North begins with a message from out of the blue: a telephone call informing Krishan that his grandmother’s caretaker, Rani, has died under unexpected circumstances—found at the bottom of a well in her village in the north, her neck broken by the fall. The news arrives on the heels of an email from Anjum, an impassioned yet aloof activist Krishnan fell in love with years before while living in Delhi, stirring old memories and desires from a world he left behind.
As Krishan makes the long journey by train from Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province for Rani’s funeral, so begins an astonishing passage into the innermost reaches of a country. At once a powerful meditation on absence and longing, as well as an unsparing account of the legacy of Sri Lanka’s thirty-year civil war, this procession to a pyre “at the end of the earth” lays bare the imprints of an island’s past, the unattainable distances between who we are and what we seek.
Written with precision and grace, Anuk Arudpragasam’s masterful novel is an attempt to come to terms with life in the wake of devastation, and a poignant memorial for those lost and those still living.
A young man ruminates about Sri Lankan history and his own life in the introspective latest from Arudpragasam (The Story of a Brief Marriage). After leaving a PhD program in India and spending two years as an NGO worker in Sri Lanka following the end of the civil war, Krishan returns home to live with his mother and frail paternal grandmother in Colombo. He then learns that his grandmother's caretaker, Rani, has fallen into a well and died while visiting her family in the north. As Krishan wrestles with the appropriate response to the news, he also mulls over an email from Anjum, a bisexual Indian ex-girlfriend with whom he shared an intense relationship. Krishan decides to travel north for Rani's funeral, and reflects on Rani's life as the mother of two sons killed in the war, while he still fixates on his time with Anjum. He interrupts these reminiscences with lengthy summaries of poems and a documentary film, the latter providing historical background on the civil war in a way that sometimes feels forced. Overall, though, the elegant descriptions of Krishan's sentiments helps smooth over the slow pace and spare plot (on cigarettes: "the present more bearable even when he wasn't smoking because it meant the present was leading to something good"). Readers who enjoy contemplative, Sebaldian narratives will appreciate this.
Beautifully descriptive writing - almost more of a ballad than a novel! Just too introspective for my taste with too many contemplative tangents.
Filled with inert, trite “reflections”.