Book Review: An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy

22 Apr

Genre: Literary fiction

Publisher: Simon& Schuster

Pub date: 5 Apr 2011

Source: e-galley from Publisher

A story set in India and a multi-generational saga. That sounded exactly like my kind of read and for the most part it was.

Synopsis (from Simon & Schuster website)

On the outskirts of a small town in Bengal, a family lives in solitude in their vast new house. Here, lives intertwine and unravel. A widower struggles with his love for an unmarried cousin. Bakul, a motherless daughter, runs wild with Mukunda, an orphan of unknown caste adopted by the family. Confined in a room at the top of the house, a matriarch goes slowly mad; her husband searches for its cause as he shapes and reshapes his garden. As Mukunda and Bakul grow, their intense closeness matures into something else, and Mukunda is banished to Calcutta. He prospers in the turbulent years after Partition, but his thoughts stay with his home, with Bakul, with all that he has lost—and he knows that he must return.


This debut novel from Anuradha Roy has such a strong lyrical voice that I was completely drawn in. The people she has drawn and the situations they find themselves in are very real and I could see each character and the setting. Usually I find myself most interested in the stories of the people who are closer to my age, but in this case Amulya and his wife, Kananbala (the matriarch) became my favourite characters. The stubborn Amulya builds a lovely house far away from everything that his wife knows. Isolated and unable to find any social company, she unravels.

Set against the backdrop of the times of the British Raj all the way to a few years after Partition, the historical aspects of the story play some part in the story. The Sahebs and their wives and their totally different lives are observed by Amulya.

The three parts of the book correspond to the three generations of the family. The second part tells the stories of Kanan and Amulya’s sons – Kamal and Nirmal, while the third part deals with the next generation Bakul and Mukunda.

The story really deals with many themes – isolation, relationships between husband and wife, Colonial rule in India, tribal people and their problems, effects of the Partition, the different ways that people deal with parenting, the plight of widows in traditional parts of the country. It might seem like a lot, but Roy has a deft hand and brings us relatable stories and characters that you will root for.

The author’s voice was so strong, sure and evocative in the first two parts, but the last part of the book didn’t really work for me. The change of voice was jarring and the story itself seemed a little rushed and too coincidental – just to wrap everything up nice and easy.

That said, this was for the most part an immensely enjoyable read. I look forward to reading Roy’s next work.


Recommended for anyone interested in Indian authors and stories.

Rating: 3.5*

P.S. This is Anuradha Roy, debut author, not to be confused with Arundhati Roy, author of God of Small Things.

*See my Rating policy

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5 Responses to “Book Review: An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy”

  1. bookspersonally April 22, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    Very lovely review! you captured the strengths so beautifully.


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