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June 26 2022 8:38 PM ˚
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A meditation on post-war violence, love, and guilt

A Passage North  - Anuk Arudpragasam
A Passage North – Anuk Arudpragasam
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In a world plagued with wars yet obsessed with “fast news”, we often take little time to explore the stories that remain after the bombs stop. Yet, these meditations on guilt, loss, trauma, and ultimately, life after the war are what reveal the humanity shadowed by violence. اضافة اعلان

 A Passage North is Anuk Arudpragasam’s — a Sri Lankan writer of Tamil heritage — second novel. The novel was set in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war (1983–2009), where the Tamil Tigers were fighting for an independent state in the face of the government’s continuous discrimination and violent persecution.

In the wake of the government’s victory, Krishan, a young Sri Lankan man of Tamil heritage, who lives in the southern city of Colombo, received a phone call to be told that his grandmother’s former caregiver, Rani, had died. And so begins Krishan’s journey to the war-scarred North for Rani’s funeral. At around the same time, Krishan also receives an email from his former girlfriend Anjum, an Indian activist whom he clearly still loves. This is no spoiler, and thankfully, this is not a plot-heavy book but rather one about the nuance of life.

The book undoubtedly has political intent, but this political vividness does not come from the dramatization of violence; although descriptions are present, they are more honest meditations from a narrator trying to navigate the systematic destruction of the Tamil society.
Arudpragasam writes tenderly and lightly, creating space for readers who enjoy sifting through memories and understanding how the past shapes our present.
“There were so many diasporic Tamils who haunted the internet … people who’d left or fled the country … people who spent their free time trying to convince themselves that their pasts on this island really had taken place, their memories more than fantasies or hallucinations, representing people and places that really had taken up space on earth,” the book said regarding witnessing the violence, as a Tamil from afar.

However, thinking of the novel as a mere “political object” to understand the aftermath of the 30-year civil war would be overlooking its mastery and why it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2021.

Arudpragasam writes tenderly and lightly, creating space for readers who enjoy sifting through memories and understanding how the past shapes our present.

The novel puts every action, thought, and dialogue under a microscope. It focuses on observing and noticing the small things that fester in our everyday lives.

“Even though nothing exactly had happened, even though their conversation about the film had been abstract and unrelated to their relationship, it was as if each of them had sensed that some turning point had been reached.”

Through disentangling his thoughts relating to the relationship with his former lover, we can understand the anxiety and insecurity of new loves and the pleasure when one begins to feel solitude and self-sufficiency outside of a partner. 

A Passage North is full of melancholy. However, it is not a melancholy that leaves you desponded, but rather one that leaves you carefully wondering. Arudpragasam creates, through Krishan’s thoughts, feelings that leave you more deeply connected with the beauty of every day.

Some sort of survivor’s guilt torments Krishan’s character for not having been affected by the civil war in the way in which Rani has, and it is through her story that Krishan tries to come to terms with his Tamil heritage while being outside of the war zone.
Divided Sri Lanka is present throughout, but so too is the divided self that many of us struggle to contend with.
Arudpragasam draws out notions of longing, shame, and desire, all while creating an atmospheric sensory description that leaves the reader feeling as though one is smoking a cigarette with Krishan in Colombo or on the train with him and Anjum through India. This attention to detail to everyday lives means that even when Arudpragasam makes declarations about the human condition and the things universally shared, it does not feel out of reach or philosophical but rather revelatory and coated in disbelief that one has not yet observed this in their own life.

Divided Sri Lanka is present throughout, but so too is the divided self that many of us struggle to contend with.

This novel is intelligent, rewarding, and due to its slow nature — pleasurable. This is a powerful meditation on longing, grief, and how the past seeps into our present. I hugely recommend enjoying it in the afternoon in the sun.

It is not prior to bed read as your mind needs time to muse over the deep thoughts that Arudpragasam leaves you with.


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