Posted: Mon 1st Nov 2021

Former mayor of Mold Bob Gaffey reviews this year’s Booker Prize nominees: A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Nov 1st, 2021

The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades.

Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK and Ireland. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career.

Anuk Arudpragasam, Damon Galgut, Patricia Lockwood, Nadifa Mohamed, Richard Powers and Maggie Shipstead are today announced have been shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction.

The former mayor of Mold, Bob Gaffey has reviewed all six Booker-shortlisted books which will be published on in the run-up to the award announcement day of Nov 3.

Bob is also a keen writer is set to release a book for Mold’s first Bookfest in May 2022.

All this year Booker nominee reviews:

Bob reviews A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam – a 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.


A Passage North Review by Bob Gaffey 

This has been long-listed for the Booker 2021. It’s a story about a Sri Lankan, Krishan, who lives with his mother, grandmother and her carer, Rani. It’s intertwined with the ex-lover Anjum who has sent him an email asking how he is. The story moves from Sri Lanka to India and back again. It is an island off the coast of India but the major part is the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils in the north which ended in defeat of the Tamils. Rani, the carer, has lost family and is stricken with permanent grief over the death of her son in the war. Whilst the war was going on Krishan was in Delhi accumulating diplomas.  At first the story is a little confusing but it settles down as the jigsaw pieces fall into place.

The relationship between Krishan and Anjum starts off with how he lusted after her from afar. The lengths he goes to to get to know her, and finally win her over. How the relationship develops into an intense love affair. From there how it changes over time and ends. With her ending things, you keep hoping the affair will re-ignite and get back to where it was. This is a big part of the novel and very well presented. The author has a distinctive writing style and it flows well and seemingly effortlessly.

Rani is in the north of Sri Lanka visiting her family on a holiday from Krishan’s grandmother. Rani’s daughter phones him to say that Rani has died falling down a well and the funeral date. K. isn’t sure if it’s suicide, murder or accidental. He is determined to go to the funeral and try to find out the truth. This is the journey north of the title. Many Sri Lankan women are in a state of suspended animation due to not knowing if their male relatives are dead or imprisoned somewhere being tortured. Thousands that had been killed by government forces have been buried in mass graves. After the end of the war, “All those cemeteries, containing thousands and thousands of dead fighters, had been razed to the ground by the army, their huge Chinese bulldozers mowing down graves indiscriminately, hardly a trace of them left anywhere in the north east now……Rani’s eldest son must also have had his remains destroyed and removed from their place of rest”. In other words, phenomenal  sacrilege.

The author’s detailed explanation of the rituals and procedures is interesting and informative. It’s well-worth a read. I hope it gets on to the Booker shortlist and it may be good enough to win too. There are several mentions of Chinese loans and influence as it spreads its power and its tentacles across that continent.

About the author 

Anuk Arudpragasam is an award-winning Sri Lankan Tamil novelist, who is shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize for his second novel, A Passage North.

His first, The Story of a Brief Marriage, won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize.

Arudpragasam studied philosophy in the United States, receiving a doctorate at Columbia University.

He credits Descartes’Meditations, which he discovered as a teenager in a bookshop near his home in Columbo, Sri Lanka, for setting him off on that path.

He is currently working on a new novel about mothers and daughters in the Tamil diaspora.

About Bob Gaffey

Bob Gaffey was mayor of Mold between 2017 and 2018.

He spent six years as a town councillor in Mold, raising more than £10,000 towards the restoration of Bailey Hill in the town as part of a project to turn the former Norman settlement into an outdoor attraction.

The funds were raised by holding events during his time as mayor in 2017/18.

The former union representative is currently chair of the Wrexham, Denbighshire and Flintshire branch of Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and the Delyn branch of Plaid Cymru.

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