First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
A Passage North begins with a message from out of the blue: a telephone call informing Krishan that his grandmother’s caretaker, Rani, has died under unexpected circumstances – found 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 form Anjum, an impassioned yet aloof activist Krishan fell in love with years before while living in Delhi, stirring old memories and desires from a world he left behind.
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 inner-most 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, this procession to a pyre “at the end of the earth” lays bare the imprints of an island’s past, the unattainable distances between who we are and what we seek.
Written with precision and grace, Anuk Arudpragasam’s masterful new novel is an attempt to come to terms with life in the wake of devastation and a poignant memorial for those lost and those still living.
Happy Friday everyone! I hope you all had a great week and that you are all ending it on a high note. Again, as the year is slowly drawing to a close, I hope you all reap the fruits of all that you have worked hard for this past year. I hope you get repaid, 10 times, 100 times more. I pray that your prayers get answered, if not, you are redirected to a better path. I also hope that you are all happy and are all doing great, physically, and mentally. With 2022 just around the corner, I fervently pray for this pandemic to end soon. It has caused too much damage already but I know, hope still springs eternal.
Before closing out the work week, let me share my impressions on my current read. I am currently focusing on my books but, without design, I have been soaking in the books longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize. After Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This, I am now currently reading Anuk Arudpragasam’s A Passage North. To be honest, I would have never bothered lifting the book if I encountered it in the book store had it not been for its being nominated for the prestigious literary prize. It also happens to my third book from the longlist; the other book being former winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun.
It came as a pleasant surprise that A Passage North is set in Sri Lanka, making it just my second novel set in the island nation after Sharon Bala’s The Boat People. I didn’t actually know until I started reading the novel which commenced with a call to Krishan, the novel’s primary character. It was an unfortunate news that he received; his grandmother’s caretaker, Rani, was found dead on the bottom of an empty well. At the same time, he received an email from Anjum. What ensued was a collection of reflections related to these two events. On one side, we find Krishan reminiscing about his childhood in Sri Lanka’s North Province, with particular focus on his grandmother.
The other thread follows his encounter with Anjum in Delhi. He moved to Delhi after university to work for a nonprofit organization. Despite the veil of enigma that shrouded Anjum, Krishan pursued her. If Krishan’s current situation is any indication, their relationship did not flourish the way he expected it to be. While he was ruminating, Krishan traveled to his home village. On the train from Colombo, we witness how the landscape transformed and the third motif of the novel starts to unveil: Sri Lanka’s tumultuous contemporary history. It was until recently that Sri Lanka was engaged with a civil war against the Tamil Tigers who took control of the nation’s northern part. The Civil War came to an end in 2009. However, the war left deep scars and it was these deep scars that we also get to witness; Rami is a relic of the war, so to speak.
From the moment I started reading A Passage North, I just knew that it was a Booker Prize material. The long paragraphs, brimming with nostalgia and deep ruminations, reminded me vestiges of Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea. I was really impressed with Arudpragasam’s prose. A couple of days after I started reading the book, I learned that it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I couldn’t be happy as it was a book that I am truly enjoying. I do, however, lament the fact that it lacked dialogues. Arudpragasam traded conversations with long, lyrical paragraphs. It has more telling than doing.
I have a little under a hundred pages more before I complete the book. I am at the part of Rani’s funeral. I do hope that the story percolates into a fitting denouement and conclusion. After that amazing reading journey, there is no way but up for the story. Despite my busy schedule, it is my goal to complete the book this weekend, after which I will start with another Booker Prize longlist – Francis Spufford’s Light Perpetual. How about you fellow reader, what 2021 Booker Prize longlisted book do you have on your reading list? I hope you are enjoying what you are reading. For now, happy weekend and as always, happy reading!