A Passage North
By Anuk Arudpragasam
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It begins with a message: a telephone call informing Krishan that his grandmother’s former care-giver, Rani, has died in unexpected circumstances, 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 activist he fell in love with four years earlier while living in Delhi, bringing with it the stirring of distant memories and desires.
As Krishan makes the long journey by train from Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province for the funeral, so begins a passage into the soul of an island devastated by violence. Written with precision and grace, A Passage North is a poignant memorial for the missing and the dead, and a luminous meditation on time, consciousness, and the lasting imprint of the connections we make with others.Tweet
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A Slow, ponderous meditation on Sri Lanka during the civil war and its aftermath with lots of moral, ethical and philosophical considerations along the way as the protagonist travels to the former war torn north for a funeral.
First Thursday Book Club last night and what a divisive read.
This book is essentially a series of Krishan’s reflections as he journeys across Sri Lanka to attend the funeral of his grandmother’s care giver. It’s a very slow, contemplative story about trauma and loss. Loss of youth, independence, love as well as the long lasting effects of trauma. Lyrically descriptive and deeply introspective, it certainly divided our group.
Our views ranged from mesmerising, meandering and intriguing, to disappointing, laboured and repetitious. The book cycles between poetic descriptions and imagery to graphic portrayal of war and death. Written in the third person every encounter is filtered by Krishan’s thoughts.
Half of our group were captivated by Arudprgasam’s long illustrative sentences and expressive vocabulary. Intrigued by Krishan’s scrutiny of his surroundings, his relationships, his desires and his attempts to understand his place in his world, reading became almost mediative. For others the book was over analytical and overly introverted and in parts verbose. Offering no real plot or resolution to even the minor questions it quickly became frustrating. It certainly divided the room and gave us lots to talk about.
We did all agree however that Arudpragasam’s writing is extremely perceptive of human behaviour, and that he quite clearly expresses a love for family and for the land of his birth. We were engrossed by his explorations of the culture, customers and history of Sri Lanka a country we knew little about.
There is much to admire in A Passage North. Arudpragasam is extremely perceptive of human behaviour, and this shows clearly in his portrayal of elderly Appamma's pride and shame. He clearly has a close bond with the land of his birth, and makes us feel his pain at the suffering of his people during and after the war. He also writes beautifully lyrical passages of description.
However, I felt he made Krishan far too introspective and over-analytical of every thought and situation he experienced. Pages are spent on a single idea - and in some cases the thought is either rather obvious/mundane or taken to such an inner depth as to be almost impenetrable.
Perhaps I lack the depth of intellect required to appreciate Krishan's philosophical meditations. He seems incapable of letting pass any opportunity for analysis of thought or situation. He also too often views things from his own perspective rather than from that of the person involved.
There are interesting anecdotes, and Arudpragasam does shed light on the ordeals of civil war. However, I found it tiresome in places, and was not sorry to reach the end. To use Krishan's words on his arrival at his destination, "After a long and meditative journey.." Indeed.
I read this book as our First Thursday Book Club was gifted a number of copies.
The book describes the lives and relationships of Krishna, his family especially his grandmother and her carer Rani.
How their lives are affected by grim scenes of war and its aftermath, with contemplation on self, relationships, memories and loss especially after the death of his grandmother’s carer, and the breakdown of his relationship with Anjun.
It contains poetic descriptions and imagery but also graphic portrayal of war and death.
It is a thoughtful read with elements of self awareness and discovery but also dark and disturbing passages at times.
The First Birthday Book Club was gifted this to read and review. Very slow, meditative story about trauma and loss. Loss of youth, independence, the long lasting effects of trauma. I did enjoy this book, although that might not be the best choice of word here, it left me lost for words at points. A book to savour and read slowly.
Our book club are shadowing the Booker Prize and this is the book we were gifted.
“But looking back during these rare junctures in which we are for what ever reason, lifted up from the circular daydream of everyday life, we are slightly surprised to find ourselves in the places we are,”
Anuk Arudpragasam’s own words which perfectly describe this book, a book which is more a series of Krishan’s reflections as he journeys across Sri Lanka to attend the funeral of his grandmother’s care giver.
Characters such as his grandma are beautifully described in perfect detail, charting her strengths and decline affectionately and accurately. The descriptions of his country, his reflections on the war, the people who lived through it and what he regards as his own position of privilege were interesting and emotive. I found myself immersed in large sections of his story. However at other times I completely was completely cast adrift. It almost felt like 2 different books. Drowning at times from constant over analysis and muddied over thinking I found myself switching from being eager to read on to wishing I’d never started the book in the first place! Written in the third person and with only the thoughts of Krishan, others become a bit player, a reflection of himself. Great chunks of the book only reach us after being embellished by our narrator.
I’m still unsure how I feel about this book. For the portions I loved a resounding 5 and for those I didn’t………. so, I guess overall it’s going to be a 3. It's a book which will certainly give us all something to chat about. Thank you
This book is not plot driven, it is written in the third person and is the thoughts of Krishna as he goes on a train journey to a funeral in the north of Sri Lanka. For me it wasn’t an easy read , the sentences were very long and seemed to go on forever. I did feel like I had a good history lesson and learned a lot about the culture and civil war in Sri Lanka. It had several themes , such as family , friendship, war and grief which were covered very well. I thought it was an interesting read but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it.