Anuk Arudpragasam’s first novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage, was set over a day and a night during the ethnic massacres that came at the end of the civil war in his native Sri Lanka, in the course of which the north of the island, held by Tamil rebels, was taken over by government forces. Arudpragasam, a Tamil who grew up in Colombo, where he lives now, didn’t witness first-hand the phase of the war that the novel describes; he was at university in California. You sense that his contemplative new novel, which has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, is an attempt to explore his experiences of dislocation.
The book’s protagonist is Krishan, a Tamil in his late twenties who had been studying philosophy at a university in India during the massacres. Feeling compelled to act, he took a job as an NGO worker back in Sri Lanka to help the north’s postwar recovery. Now he