Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy

An Atlas of Impossible Longing: A Novel

Title: An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy
Publisher: Free Press
Published: April 2011
ISBN: 9781451608625
Pages: 336

An Atlas of Impossible Longing follows three generations of men in India from post World War I postcolonial period to after the Partition of India and Pakistan.  The book is divided into the story of Amulya, his son Nirmal, and an orphan Mukunda.  The title comes from a palm reading that Mukunda receives on a whim.

Amulya is a man before his time.  He moves his family (a wife and two sons, out of Calcutta to a Songarh, a town bordering on the jungle.  Here, he has all the space for his factory where he creates herbal remedies and medicines from plants he cultivates and studies.  Scorned by his relatives and prodded by his wife for moving to the wilds of Songarh, he predicts the town will one day be a important region where everyone clamors to love.  Though he loves the solitude and quiet provided by the slow pace of life, his wife Kananbala is slowly going mad with loneliness.  One morning one of his workers shows up with a local woman and a baby.  The worker begs for help with the baby; the woman claims it's his married son's child.  Amulya sends the child to an orphanage and pays fees for his sustenance.

Nirmal, the second son, studious and hardworking, is a mama's boy who keeps his mother company every evening.  After he gets married, Kananbala realizes he is withdrawing and would rather spend time with his new wife.  Shortly after, she develops fits of profanity and the family shuts her away to avoid talk.  Nirmal's wife Shanti dies in childbirth.  After her death, Nirmal travels and takes work as far from Songarh as possible to not have to deal with her death or their child. 

Mukunda, an orphan supported by Amulya, is adopted into the household after Amulya's death.  He isn't really treated as part of the family, more like an elevated servant.  Nirmal provides a home and education, but is unable to get any of the others, other than Bakul, to treat him as a member of the family.  As he and Bakul grow up with only each other as playmates, they are extremely close.  The family begins to worry about where the relationship will lead.  Nirmal decides to send Mukunda to school in the city to provide some space in the relationship.  Although very bitter about his treatment by Nirmal, Mukunda realizes as a grown man why he was sent away.  He is able to help Bakul and Nirmal several times.

The best novel I have read this year  -- actually in a couple years.  Each section is great with just enough action and pacing to keep the story moving.  With the amount of characters, it could get very confusing.  However, the way Ms. Roy uses each character helps the flow of the story without distracting from the plot.  She manages to make us aware of some of the cultural limitations placed on the characters -- mistreatment of Mukunda due to his unknown caste status, barrier to the development of a relationships Nirmal and Meera, a widowed distant cousin, and the strife between Nirmal & Kamal his brother towards the end.

** This review is based on a review copy provided by the publisher. **

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