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A Passage North
Cover of A Passage North
A Passage North
A Novel
LONGLISTED 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.
 
“One of the most individual minds of their generation.”—Financial Times
“A novel of tragic power and uncommon beauty.”—Anthony Marra
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 alive.
LONGLISTED 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.
 
“One of the most individual minds of their generation.”—Financial Times
“A novel of tragic power and uncommon beauty.”—Anthony Marra
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 alive.
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  • From the book 1

    The present, we assume, is eternally before us, one of the few things in life from which we cannot be parted. It overwhelms us in the painful first moments of entry into the world, when it is still too new to be managed or negotiated, remains by our side during childhood and adolescence, in those years before the weight of memory and expectation, and so it is sad and a little unsettling to see that we become, as we grow older, much less capable of touching, grazing, or even glimpsing it, that the closest we seem to get to the present are those brief moments we stop to consider the spaces our bodies are occupying, the intimate warmth of the sheets in which we wake, the scratched surface of the window on a train taking us somewhere else, as if the only way we can hold time still is by trying physically to prevent the objects around us from moving. The present, we realize, eludes us more and more as the years go by, showing itself for fleeting moments before losing us in the world’s incessant movement, fleeing the second we look away and leaving scarcely a trace of its passing, or this at least is how it usually seems in retrospect, when in the next brief moment of consciousness, the next occasion we are able to hold things still, we realize how much time has passed since we were last aware of ourselves, when we realize how many days, weeks, and months have slipped by without our consent. Events take place, moods ebb and flow, people and situations come and go, but looking back during these rare junctures in which we are, for whatever reason, lifted up from the circular daydream of everyday life, we are slightly surprised to find ourselves in the places we are, as though we were absent while everything was happening, as though we were somewhere else during the time that is usually referred to as our life. Waking up each morning we follow by circuitous routes the thread of habit, out of our homes, into the world, and back to our beds at night, move unseeingly through familiar paths, one day giving way to another and one week to the next, so that when in the midst of this daydream something happens and the thread is finally cut, when, in a moment of strong desire or unexpected loss, the rhythms of life are interrupted, we look around and are quietly surprised to see that the world is vaster than we thought, as if we’d been tricked or cheated out of all that time, time that in retrospect appears to have contained nothing of substance, no change and no duration, time that has come and gone but left us somehow untouched.

    Standing there before the window of his room, looking out through the dust-­coated pane of glass at the empty lot next door, at the ground overrun by grasses and weeds, the empty bottles of arrack scattered near the gate, it was this strange sense of being cast outside time that held Krishan still he tried to make sense of the call he’d just received, the call that had put an end to all his plans for the evening, the call informing him that Rani, his grandmother’s former caretaker, had died. He’d come home not long before from the office of the NGO at which he worked, had taken off his shoes and come upstairs to find, as usual, his grandmother standing outside his room, waiting impatiently to share all the thoughts she’d saved up over the course of the day. His grandmother knew he left work between five and half past five on most days, that if he came straight home, depending on whether he took a three-­wheeler, bus, or walked, he could be expected at home between a quarter past five and a quarter past six. His timely arrival was an axiom in the organization of her day, and she held him to it with such...
About the Author-
  • Anuk Arudpragasam was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and moved to the United States at the age of eighteen, where he attended Stanford and Columbia University. His first novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage, was translated into six languages, won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. He currently lives between Sri Lanka and India.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2021

    Traveling by train from Colombo to Sri Lanka's war-ravaged Northern Province for the funeral of his grandmother's caretaker, Krishan reflects on the consequences of his country's 30-year civil war. He also recalls the remote activist with whom he fell in love four years previously, just back in touch. Following Arudpragasam's multi-best-booked debut, The Story of a Brief Marriage.

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 10, 2021
    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. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners.

  • Kirkus

    May 15, 2021
    Arudpragasam, whose first novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage, made a critical splash in 2016, is back with an intelligent, quite often moving novel of meditation and aftermath. The plot of this book, conventionally speaking, would fit on a cocktail napkin: Krishan, a young Sri Lankan man who lives in the southern city of Colombo and works for a nongovernmental organization there, receives a phone call; takes a long walk, during which he stops to smoke a few cigarettes; makes the titular train journey into the recently war-ravaged north, during which he recalls a love affair now over; attends a village funeral. That's it. And yet the novel is charged throughout with tension and excitement. Part of that derives from Arudpragasam's fierce intelligence and his total commitment to plumbing Krishan's psyche, to following his thoughts patiently, relentlessly, with exquisite subtlety. Not many writers can successfully invite comparison to W.G. Sebald's slow, inward, thoughtful--yet somehow pulse-pounding--novels, but Arudpragasam can and does. The rest of the novel's tension comes from the powerfully evoked historical context. This isn't just the aftermath of a love now over, or of a young man's idealistic early 20s, or even of the life of a grandmother's caretaker now dead in what appears to be an accidental fall down a well (the funeral to which Krishan is headed); beneath them all, agitating the water to which the book returns again and again, is the long, still-rippling wake of Sri Lanka's bloody three-decade civil war, in which the grandmother's caretaker, Rani, lost both her sons (and in which Krishan's father was killed). The result, if such a thing be possible, is a novel of philosophic suspense, one whose reader shivers in anticipation not of what will happen next but of where the next thought will lead. A luminously intelligent, psychologically intricate novel--slow in always rewarding ways.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    June 1, 2021
    In his second novel, Arudpragasam uses a deeply introspective and philosophical lens to examine themes of war, displacement, and grief, as he did in his first novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage (2016). Krishan has returned home to Sri Lanka to help his mother take care of his grandmother. On the heels of receiving an unexpected correspondence from Anjum, with whom he had a brief but intense affair, Krishan hears from the daughter of his grandmother's former caretaker, Rani, who informs him that Rani died in a tragic accident. Heading north by train to pay his respects, toward the lands devastated by the Sri Lankan civil war, Krishan reflects on his relationship with Anjum and Rani's life, which was marked by tragedy, losing both her sons to the war. He uses poetry, literature, and film to sift through his feelings, and his detailed retellings result in several stories within the story. Long, contemplative passages make this best suited for those who relish lovely writing and philosophical musings, who will thoroughly enjoy it.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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