Book Review: Anuk Arudpragasam's A PASSAGE NORTH

Updated: May 21

Arudpragasam’s latest does not dwell on the conventional makings of a triumphant novel. It is, in fact, an ongoing and intricate exploration of civil unrest, war, ageing, attachments, and the losses that ensue in their wake.


In Colombo, Sri Lanka, Krishnan's weekend unfolds with him receiving news of his grandmother's former caretaker, Rani's demise. The mounting shock spurs his racing thoughts, filling the real estate of the book with his poignant contemplations of personal and societal tragedies—his father's death during the civil war, his time spent with the dispassionate, hence magnetic, Anjum in India and the observations he had of the vast, limitless country. While engulfed in the tedious routines of his uneventful life, Krishnan, although believing himself privileged to have avoided violence, harbours intense survivor's guilt, fanned by incessant doom-scrolling on the internet. He is a man eerily in harmony with his misfortunes and setbacks.


Krishnan's musings, scented with mythological parables, follow in elegant details, each sentence adding to the strange yet familiar vibrancy of grief.

Arudpragasam's careful prose holds the seething intensity of Krishnan's emotional conflicts as competently as his forgettable nonevents. His musings, scented with mythological parables, follow in elegant - albeit forced - details, each sentence adding to the strange yet familiar vibrancy of grief. It is easy to believe the novel solely stations itself on civil war. While the chapters draw lines of losses, connecting the victimhood of all involved, Arudpragasam keenly focuses on Krishnan's inner combats, outlining a man much too torn between his atrocities and of those he observes in the world. The inevitable corruption of long-standing grief, only thinning and never dissolving, evident in his mournful remembrances.


The restrained pacing, while vital in discerning Arudpragasam's sentence-level genius and breaking away from the subject's heaviness, often arrives like a peculiar guest. Undoubtedly, the novel is more theme and character than plot. Krishnan's grandmother's failing will to ward off her death, Anjum's enduring hold over Krishnan's subconscious, and Rani's accelerated mental instability grimly fester as gradual discoveries on the pages. The women passively direct Krishnan's attention toward grief, longing, and closure. The present and the past collide in his recollections, developing the narrative into an elegiac meditation on the days, weeks, and years that follow war and the incidental casualties that continue to pile.


Essential without being imposing, Arudpragasam’s A Passage North, while it does not resolve the conflicts it presents, exists bravely alongside them, questioning and prodding.

Essential without ever being imposing, Arudpragasam’s A Passage North, while it does not resolve the conflicts it presents, exists bravely alongside them, questioning and prodding. The book is to be slowly savoured on lazy Sundays. It needs to be kept close on unsettling ones. On regular days, it reads like a figment of one's suppressed imagination ~ lyrically unnerving and confidently astute in its subjective nomenclature of loss.



Hardcover, 304 pages. Published on July 13, 2021, by Hogarth Press.


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