Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fiction - An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy

An Atlas of Impossible Longing is essentially a book that details what happens within a small-town Indian family for three generations (one of those "three-generational Indian sagas"). It can be described as historical fiction, its events ranging in time from the 1920s to the 1940s, but historical detail takes a backseat to the trials, mistakes, and longings of the central characters of the story.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is about Amulya and his wife, Kananbala. The couple is getting on in years; of their two sons, the elder is married and the younger marries during the course of the story. All's going well in home life and business, until Kananbala begins showing signs of madness, there's a murder across the street, and the new daughter-in-law, pregnant with her first child, is stranded in her father's flooded house. In the second section, Kananbala continues to live in her family's home, along with her son, daughter-in-law, granddaughter (Bakul), and two stray relatives: an orphan boy, Mukunda, and a widowed cousin. Bakul and Mukunda, growing up with little supervision, are unusually close to each other, which begins to be problematic as the two mature into adulthood. By the third section, Mukunda is on his own in Calcutta, cut loose from his former family, yet still, buried deep inside him, is an "impossible longing" for Bakul and his life back in the town he grew up in.

I rarely read books that seem magical simply because of the way the stories they tell are written. This is one of those, and it reminded me a lot of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (only without the magical realism). Unfortunately, the magic didn't last for the entire book. It ended after the second section, though it kept coming back briefly (and, barely, in time for the conclusion). I'm not sure if this was Roy's intention or not, but the most "magical" parts of the story are the ones that take place in the small towns of India. The portion of the book when Mukunda lives in Calcutta is the most irritating part: Mukunda is a hard character to sympathize with; the setting, writing, and characters lose their magic; readers lose track of the "impossible longing" of the story and want to smack Mukunda upside the head to wake him up. Basically, small village life = magical. Big city life = losing track of what's important. Is Roy trying to send a message here? I'm not sure. All in all, however, I loved this book. With the exception of Mukunda's idiocies in Calcutta, all of the events seem to flow naturally. My one real complaint about An Atlas of Impossible Longing? The author never really tells us what happens to Meera, the widowed cousin in the second section whose story, had it taken a different path, could have filled up a separate book.

Read-alikes: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
                           It's been a while since I've read this, but the writing and subjects
                           seemed very similar.
                           The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
                           Similar subjects of loneliness, longing, and miscommunication within
                           families and between friends, but the ending to An Atlas is happy,
                           whereas Particular Sadness is bittersweet.

My finished copy of An Atlas of Impossible Longing was received through Free Press Blog Tours. It was originally published in 2008 in Great Britain and India, but it goes on sale in the U.S. on April 5, 2011. The U.S. edition is published by Free Press.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the book, but it broke my heart.