A Passage North was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2021. Anuk Arudpragasam's masterful novel is an attempt to come to terms with life in the wake of the devastation of Sri Lanka's 30-year civil war.

As Krishan makes the long journey by train from Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province to attend a family funeral, so begins an astonishing passage into the innermost reaches of a country. At once a powerful meditation on absence and longing, and an unsparing account of the legacy of Sri Lanka’s 30-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.

The 2021 Booker Prize
Published by
Granta Books
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Anuk Arudpragasam

Anuk Arudpragasam

About the Author

Anuk Arudpragasam was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2021. He is an award-winning Sri Lankan Tamil novelist.
More about Anuk Arudpragasam

Anuk Arudpragasam on A Passage North

‘I’m gratified to be in the company of the other wonderful writers on the longlist.

‘I’ve been most influenced by the modernist novel of consciousness, by Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, and Robert Musil in their attempts to depict time and interiority: in a sense this is what I want to do for my own time and place and people. But I also view each book I write as a kind of apprenticeship to writers I want to emulate. With my first novel, for example, I looked to Samuel Beckett and Péter Nádas for the way they incorporate the body into consciousness, and in A Passage North to Thomas Bernhard and Javier Marias for their use of digression and rhythm. At the moment it is Elena Ferrante, for the way she situates a life in time.

A Passage North is more about witnessing violence from afar than it is about experiencing it up close. What does it mean to witness such violence virtually, after the fact, and be totally powerless to act? What does it mean to feel that the world is coming to an end when nothing in one’s physical environment registers any trace of that fact? These are some of the questions A Passage North tries to explore, and in that sense this book is closer to my own experience of the war.’

Read the full interview here

Anuk Arudpragasam, author of A Passage North

I didn’t set out to write about war when I began writing fiction

What the judges said

‘We had to find a place on the shortlist for A Passage North, in which Anuk Arudpragasam turns his poetic sensibility and profound, meticulous attentiveness to the business of living in the aftermath of trauma. The story unfurls like smoke as our narrator sifts through memories of a lost love affair while turning over in his mind the strange death of his grandmother’s carer, 

a woman irrevocably damaged by the death of her young sons in the Sri Lankan civil war. In hypnotic, incantatory style, Arudpragasam considers how we can find our way in the present while also reckoning with the past.’

What the critics said

Tara K. Menon, The New York Times Book Review

‘In sentences of unusual beauty and clarity, Arudpragasam observes even the most mundane of actions… 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.’

Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times

‘It can take just two novels to establish a writer as one of the most individual minds of their generation. With his new novel, a revelatory exploration of the aftermath of war, Arudpragasam cements his reputation. [An] extraordinary and often illuminating novel.’

Lucy Popescu, The Guardian

‘[A] profound meditation on suffering… survivor’s guilt and war’s aftermath. 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.’

Mark Rappolt, Art Review

‘Ultimately, A Passage North is a lengthy, expansive meditation on how we deal with finitude and death. Or don’t… At times Arudpragasam’s river of words seems to flow everywhere. Yet his story’s precision, vibrancy and genuine insight into the nature of loss in our times makes it an essential read.’

Joshua Finnell, Library Journal

‘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.’

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

What might feel affected or even tedious in the hands of a lesser writer becomes atmospheric in Arudpragasam’s extraordinary prose

Listen to an extract from A Passage North

Audie nominated and multi-AudioFile Earphones Award winning narrator Neil Shah brings A Passage North to life in the audiobook.

PRH Audio · A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam, read by Neil Shah
The audiobook cover for A Passage North on a blue background.