Book Review: A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

Krishan, a young Sri Lankan, working in an NGO in Colombo, travels to North Sri Lanka to attend the funeral of Rani, his grandmother’s caretaker and a Tamilian who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after having lost a lot to the Sri Lankan civil war. The book is mostly about Krishnan’s introspection about the suffering caused by the war, his grandmother’s old age, about his ex and their relationship, and in general about love and loss, about longing and yearning.

A Passage North is a beautifully written prose that is rich in language and imagery. Anuk has expressed Krishan’s thoughts and emotions with rare evocativeness and clarity. While it is a tour de force of mastery over prose, the novel has a very shallow storyline. It starts with Krishan getting a phone call about the sudden death of Rani and an email from Anjum, his ex-lover and a political activist, and ends with Rani’s funeral two days later. During these two days, Krishnan thoughts wander from his personal history to the contemporary history of the civil war.

These musings are written in long sentences, sometimes running into more than one page, and there are times when it is not easy to relate it with the overall plot. For example, there is a section of the book where the author describes the famous Sanskrit poem “The Cloud Messenger” by Kalidasa in great depth and style to portray Kishan’s painful longing towards Anjum.

The book ends with a very elaborate and vivid section on Rani’s funeral – each ritual helping Krishan move towards closure and peace.

Quotable Quotes: Thin on story, this is a book of meditative and contemplative thoughts. There are many quotable quotes – not a simple choice to select one!

“We experience, while still young, our most thoroughly felt desires as a kind of horizon, see life as divided into what lies on this side of that horizon and what lies on the other, as if we only had to reach that horizon and fall into it in order for everything to change, in order to once and for all transcend the world as we have known it, though in the end this transcendence never actually comes, of course, a fact one began to appreciate only as one got older, when one realized there was always more life on the other side of desire’s completion, that there was always waking up, working, eating, and sleeping, the slow passing of time that never ends, when one realized that one can never truly touch the horizon because life always goes on, because each moment bleeds into the next and whatever one considered the horizon of one’s life turns out always to be yet another piece of earth.”

This is Anuk’s second novel after the critically acclaimed A Story of a Brief Marriage.

You can buy A Passage North using this link:

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