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.
Arudpragasam captures Krishan’s sensitive, roving intelligence as he meditates on the conflict, from its idealistic beginnings, when insurgents dreamed of an independent Tamil state, to its 'unimaginable violence' and irreparable psychological damage ... a political novel, unequivocal in its condemnation of the many atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan government on its Tamil civilians, but it is also a searching work of philosophy. Arudpragasam, who has a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia, poses essential, existential questions about how we should live in a world with so much suffering. What are our obligations to others, especially those, like Rani, who have been marginalized and oppressed? The novel offers one answer: We owe them our full attention ... Every aspect of the world Krishan inhabits is subject to scrutiny. In sentences of unusual beauty and clarity, Arudpragasam observes even the most mundane of actions — smoking a cigarette, waiting for a train, making eye contact with a stranger — 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 ... Arudpragasam also makes numerous sweeping, universal statements about the human condition and what we share with even those who seem most distant from us. Sometimes sentences strain under this heavy burden. But, more often, because he precedes these claims with such precise observation, they feel revelatory ... full of melancholy, but because it takes love and desire as seriously as it does grief and loss, it avoids despair. Krishan is beset by guilt but he is also filled with yearning, in search of a pleasure 'that drew the self more widely and vividly into the world.' This novel offers that kind of pleasure.
With his new novel, a revelatory exploration of the aftermath of war, Arudpragasam cements his reputation ... The effect of Arudpragasam’s long sentences and page-long paragraphs is one of deep immersion ... It calls to mind the work of WG Sebald who, in works such as The Emigrants and On the Natural History of Destruction, examined the long shadows cast by the Holocaust and the second world war. Both authors approach the nightmare terrain of conflict obliquely at times, and through documentary fiction in other instances, demanding that the reader not only acknowledge the horrors that people endured, but reflect more deeply on the ways in which the survivors are left changed ... Like Sebald, Arudpragasam’s writing often seems like a refusal to embrace amnesia — a refusal to believe the whitewashed record or to put the war and its aftermath in the past ... Arudpragasam reminds us, with this extraordinary and often illuminating novel, that there will always be people forced to remember because they 'simply couldn’t accept a world without what they’d lost'.
Arudpragasam uses a deeply introspective and philosophical lens to examine themes of war, displacement, and grief, as he did in his first novel ... 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.