Tuesday, April 5, 2011
An Atlas of Impossible Longing - Anuradha Roy
An Atlas of Impossible Longing, Anuradha Roy, Free Press (paperback edition) 2011
An Atlas of Impossible Longing opens with a beautiful, movie-like vision of a abandoned mansion -a "folly" in rural India- being consumed by the waters of a rising river. This "drowned" house is both the prelude to our story, and the place to which the characters will ultimately return. In between, this novel tells the tale of three generations of a family, their loves and losses, from the early 1900's to the years just following India's Partition in 1947.
The story proper begins with Amulya, a successful businessman and his socially isolated wife Kananbala, living with their family in remote Songarh. Kananbala is slowly overtaken by dementia, she becomes a witness to a murder and neighborhood scandal, the sons marry, and the family experiences a profound loss: their son Nirmal's wife returns to her childhood home (the "drowned" house) and dies during childbirth, leaving an infant daughter behind. Years later, Nirmal returns to Songarh, where his daughter Bakul has been living with Kananbala, Meera (the widow of a distant relation), and an adopted boy, Mukunda. A nice romance begins to build between Nirmal and Meera, and a devoted-friendship-verging-on-romance between the young Bakul and Mukunda, but social taboos and expectations force them apart. The third and last part of the story is told by Mukunda as a young man, trying to reconcile his fate, his choices, his responsibilities, and his desires.
I found An Atlas of Impossible Longing to be well-written with some very lovely language and descriptions, but the storyline and characters did not inspire very deep, sustained affection. This might be due to the story having been divided into three distinct parts, but I think more so because the narrative overall didn't quite achieve enough momentum or coherence. Several of the characters and their stories were either not fully developed or left with loose ends. For example, I thought Nirmal and Meera were perhaps the most appealing characters, with the most engaging plotline - but Meera was dropped entirely before the third part of the novel. I was prepared to be won over by Mukunda as a young adult, but was not really convinced either of his inner turmoil or his passion for Bakul - and thus the conclusion, rather than leaving me sighing, left me feeling a little flat.
I enjoyed An Atlas of Impossible Longing - it is a very interesting read, but it did not sweep me off my feet nearly as much as I hoped it would.
A complimentary copy of An Atlas of Impossible Longing was provided to me by the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are mine alone. Other bloggers participating in today's tour are invited and encouraged to leave their reactions and blog links in the comments below.