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'.
... another profound meditation on suffering ... Sri Lanka, a divided island, is a presence throughout. 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.
Mr. Arudpragasam’s calibrated, carefully observed prose gives the novel, with all its tangents, its sense of perfect wholeness ... absorbing. So gracefully rendered are the long, balanced sentences that they envelop you—bring you to focused attention—without making a show of themselves. If there is a weakness, it is in the deployment of the book’s ideas, which are not so subtly conveyed ...The book takes a self-conscious and rather explanatory approach to evoking an experience defined by its absence of consciousness. This is a quibble—and I strongly recommend both of Mr. Arudpragasam’s novels—but it is the difference between excellence and the transcendence that this author is capable of producing.
... beautifully written ... The plot is relatively threadbare, with most of the novel following Krishan's sometimes highly tangential trains of thought as he makes the journey north. Readers spend many pages on his romance with Anjum, on their growing disconnect before she left him, and on the recent e-mail from Anjum that he hopes might promise a renewed relationship. Many more pages are devoted to Buddhist women's poetry, an important Tamil independence advocate and a documentary about young women who fought for an elite wing of the Tamil Tigers. Arudpragasam ties these passages together with ambitious prose--the sentences are lengthy and complex, as fluid and expansive as Krishan's thoughts--so that even the most unlikely tangents feel incorporated into a cohesive whole, a part of Krishan's attempt to organize his knowledge and experiences into something meaningful. A Passage North succeeds remarkably at capturing the turmoil of a young man looking for a way forward amid the ghosts of the past.
This quiet, inward manner of processing the end of the war isn't simply a character trait. The words 'quiet,' 'calm,' 'silent' or their various synonyms repeat on almost every page. Along with the lack of any direct dialogue, this creates an incantatory and meditative rhythm. It compels us to slow down and immerse ourselves with deep attention in the wordless moments between the characters. The prose is at its most moving here ... Whether it is Krishan getting intimate with Anjum on a night train to Mumbai, testing a male stranger's friendliness on the Delhi metro, or watching Rani staring at a soundless movie screen, Arudpragasam unpacks exactly how our inner circuitry is forever rewired during instances, war-driven or otherwise, that enable closeness or disconnection, that lead to absences or ruptures ... In the end, Krishan observes that death is the only closure. Conflicted about how he and the people in his life are coping with the residue of the war, he sees no other cure for those absences, memories, dreams, and desires. This is, of course, a western philosophical mindset rather than an eastern one, where death is seen not as a calamity but a necessary phase of life. If the novel strikes a false note, it is with this closing, which may be driven more by the author's Columbia doctorate in philosophy than his Sri Lankan protagonist's upbringing. While this may not have been the author's intention, it seems to diminish those who've survived horrific wars and losses and soldiered on afterward ... Nevertheless, the novel is a tender elegy. Early in the story, when describing why he was compelled to research the war obsessively, Krishan says he had been 'trying to construct, through this act of imagination, a kind of private shrine to the memory of all those anonymous lives.' A Passage North is a similar wholehearted and necessary act of preservation by its author.
... elegantly discursive ... For readers unfamiliar with the Sri Lankan Civil War, A Passage North offers perspective on the Sinhalese-dominated government’s conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ... Arudpragasam expertly captures the ambiguity of romance between two young people who feel the call of the broader world even as they cling to each other ... Arudpragasam’s writing is exceptionally graceful, which allows the text to flow despite its density. The lack of action may frustrate some readers, but this structure creates an otherwise impossible narrative reverie. Ultimately, A Passage North is an elegant story whose discursive nature pays off.
Set during the last days of the war, it’s unsparing from the off ... There are passages...where Arudpragasam is in need of an editor, but elsewhere something more interesting is going on. Krishan is impersonal even at his most intense, as if still getting to know himself, and can only work out what he thinks and feels through others ... Close third-person narration suffers when the narrator gets a free ride, and there’s nothing to suggest that Arudpragasam—who resembles Krishan in age, class, ethnicity and education—regards him as unreliable. His interminable yearning goes unquestioned, as though it were essential to the human condition rather than a luxury only the privileged can afford ... The novel has a lot to say about yearning, as if intent on revivifying an old-fashioned word...and even with the final image, of Rani going up in smoke, the yearning isn’t quite dispersed. Still, Krishan has reached some sort of accommodation with himself, now he has stood where Dharshika once stood and seen what his homeland really looks like.
... the author unwinds his story in long flowing sentences that are stretched with participial phrases and subordinate clauses...I suspect this kind of prose divides readers. Precision or preciousness? Pitch-perfect evocation of the bliss and insecurity of new romance, or a wordy descent into near-cliche? ... At his best, Arudpragasam is a patient and meticulous observer. He evokes the physical environment, the clanking train that takes Krishan north, the conquered Tamil territories, Rani’s funeral rites. He is also good on less concrete things: the colourism of the subcontinent; the misogyny Anjum encounters on the Delhi metro; the lingering hostility towards Tamils in Colombo after the war ... But on many occasions, the book’s rhetorical flourishes seem like swirls of dry ice masking an insubstantial story and unclear motivation. Why, in fact, does Krishan feel the need to go to his grandmother’s carer’s funeral? What’s at stake for him? What possible change can he undergo? And while the setup hints at tantalising possibilities, in the end Rani’s violent death turns out not to be a mystery to be solved, but the opportunity for another disquisition on memory, chance and trauma ... Krishan is a frustratingly passive protagonist. He does a lot of wondering and remembering; he smokes spliffs, and has some sex, but no real agency. Among people who have experienced so much struggle and trauma, Krishan seems drifting, inconsequential and oddly self-important. He ends up overshadowed by the more dynamic minor figures who crop up in the narrative ... The work of wondering how such a person as Puhal was possible and how she’d come to be seems like one of the things that novelists are supposed to do for us. But the detail and particularity of memorable fiction requires a form of wondering that is both deeper and less abstract than this. The frustration of A Passage North is that it gives us glimpses of extraordinary characters, but focuses its imaginative energy on the sophomoric musings of its hero.
Arudpragasam’s writing is purposefully dense, intentionally layering tangential stories with minute details to illuminate the interconnectedness of past and present ... Intricately written prose that navigates sorrow, exclusion, and national identity.
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.
An intelligent, quite often moving novel of meditation and aftermath ... he plot of this book, conventionally speaking, would fit on a cocktail napkin: Krishan, a young Sri Lankan man who lives in the southern city of Colombo and works for a nongovernmental organization there, receives a phone call; takes a long walk, during which he stops to smoke a few cigarettes; makes the titular train journey into the recently war-ravaged north, during which he recalls a love affair now over; attends a village funeral. That's it. And yet the novel is charged throughout with tension and excitement. Part of that derives from Arudpragasam's fierce intelligence and his total commitment to plumbing Krishan's psyche, to following his thoughts patiently, relentlessly, with exquisite subtlety ... a novel of philosophic suspense, one whose reader shivers in anticipation not of what will happen next but of where the next thought will lead. A luminously intelligent, psychologically intricate novel—slow in always rewarding ways.