A Passage North: A Novel - book cover
  • Publisher : Hogarth
  • Published : 13 Jul 2021
  • Pages : 304
  • ISBN-10 : 0593230701
  • ISBN-13 : 9780593230701
  • Language : English

A Passage North: A Novel

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


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.

Editorial Reviews

"In sentences of unusual beauty and clarity, Arudpragasam observes even the most mundane of actions . . . with an attention so absolute it feels devotional. He is equally gifted at atmospheric, sensory description that transports the reader to Sri Lanka and India and at examining the emotions-elation, fear, impatience, satisfaction, shame-that simmer below the surface of our everyday lives."-The New York Times Book Review

"It can take just two novels to establish a writer as one of the most individual minds of their generation. With his new novel, a revelatory exploration of the aftermath of war, Arudpragasam cements his reputation. [An] extraordinary and often illuminating novel."-Financial Times
"A tender elegy . . . [a] wholehearted and necessary act of preservation by its author."-NPR
"[A] profound meditation on suffering . . . survivor's guilt and war's aftermath. In dense, hypnotic prose, Arudpragasam explores the desire for independence that enflamed the decades-long civil war, the violence that ensued and the emotional scars that refuse to heal."-The Guardian

"Sumptuous . . . reminiscent of Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost."-Oprah Daily
"Mesmerizing, political, intimate, unafraid-this is a superb novel, a novel that pays such close, intelligent attention to the world we all live in."-Sunjeev Sahota, author of The Year of the Runaways

"Written with scrupulous attention to nuance and detail, A Passage North captures the rich interior of its protagonist's mind but also contemporary Sri Lanka itself, war-scarred, traumatized. At its center is an exquisite form of noticing, a way of rendering consciousness and handling time that connects Arudpragasam to the great novelists of the past."-Colm Tóibín, author of Brooklyn and The Testament of Mary

"Anuk Arudpragasam's first book already showed what a fine novelist he was and this second novel provides proof, if any were needed, that he is a major writer, vastly accomplished."-Amitava Kumar, author of Immigrant, Montana

"It's difficult to think of comparisons for Arudpragasam's work among current English-language writers; one senses, reading his two extraordinary novels, a new mastery coming into being."-Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness and What Belongs to You

"This is a novel as both an elegy and a love song, not only for a place, but for the souls, living and dead, who are bound to that place-what an unforgettable and perfect reading experience."-Paul Yoon, author of Snow Hunters and Run Me to Earth

"A luminously intelligent...

Readers Top Reviews

Beautifully written account of life in Sri Lanka by an author that has lived there through its turbulent history and experienced first hand the horrors of its long civil war. Not only is there a relatively straightforward depiction of life in and around Colombo, but also much introspection regarding the deep subjects that occupy Krishan, most notably the desperation of those who attempt to leave the country and the difficulties faced by immigrants. Not an easy book, but a relevant one.
Mohit G
I received an ARC of this book for review. The story centers around the main character, Krishna, making a journey north for the funeral of his grandmother's caretaker. The book mostly revolves around Krishna reminiscing about his past, his relationships and his family amongst other things. There isn't much of a plot per se, so readers looking for a storyline will be disappointed. The book moves along at a languid pace with digressions into history or multiple pages devoted to other storylines like that of Buddha. The author can certainly write as demonstrated by the beautiful prose. My issue with such books is that there is no defined conclusion to the storyline. You can easily take out a few chapters or add a few more without changing the end result. These kind of books end when the author sort of decides that they are done. The prose is lovely but can get tedious if it goes on for too long.
Ann Traskkathleen g
I spent time in Sri Lanka with an AID organization near the end of the civil war, so was looking forward to this book very much--but was very disappointed. It has excruciating detail about something a small as a glance between two men on a bus---so much so that the story itself can't unfold. If you can tolerate reading minute details of a man's every thought and interaction, this book is for you. If you want a story that tells you something about post-civil war Sri Lanka, read something else. Full disclosure, I gave up after 120 pages or so.......maybe it gets better, but I couldn't bear it.
Nancy J. Jones
I just finished reading Anuk Aradpragasam’s novel, A Passage North, which was long-listed for the Booker Prize. It is a deeply moving meditation on desire, love, violence, loss and death. Set in Sri Lanka but with flashbacks to the protagonist’s time in India, the novel takes place in the aftermath of the thirty-year civil war between the Tamil separatists and the Sinhalese government. It examines sexual identity, gender, race and caste as well as religion and colonialism. Among the qualities that I loved was the fact that there is not a single line of dialogue. The novel is all exposition and interior monologue and weaves in stories and legends of the Buddha and Tamil fighters against a backdrop of personal loss. The only action in the fictional present is that the protagonist receives an email from his former lover and a phone call that his grandmother’s former caretaker has died. He goes for an evening walk then takes a train north from Colombo to attend the funeral of the caretaker. In this unusual structure, it reminds me of Jeannette Winterson’s Art and Lies. The absence of dialogue also brought Jamaica Kincaid to mind. It’s beautifully and compassionately written. I very much recommend it.
Introspective, thoughtful and superbly written.

Short Excerpt Teaser


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 severity that she would, if there was ever any deviation from the norm, be appeased only by a detailed explanation, that an urgent meeting or deadline had kept him at work longer than usual, that the roads had been blocked because of some rally or procession, when she'd become convinced, in other words, that the deviation was exceptional and that the laws she'd laid down in her room for the operation of the world outside were still in motion. He'd listened as she talked about the clothes she needed to wash, about her conjectures on what his mother was making for dinner, about her plans to shampoo her hair the next morning, and when at last there was a pause in her speech he'd begun to shuffle away, saying he was going out with friends later and wanted to rest awhile in his room. She would be hurt by his unexpected desertion, he knew, but he'd been waiting all afternoon for some time alone, had been waiting for peace and quiet so he could think about the email he'd received earlier in the day, the first communication he'd received from Anjum in so long, the first attempt she'd made since the end of their relationship to...