Friday, January 20, 2012

Book Review: An Atlas of Impossible Longing

For awhile, I was longing for the end of An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy. Please understand: I began reading it in the car on my way to my uncle's funeral. I read it in bits and pieces in the hotel room and on the way back to Tennessee. I fell asleep, exhausted from the trip, after only reading a page or two each night. And then, midway through, I realized that I needed to re-read the novel I was teaching for British Literature (A Christmas Carol) and quickly read Emma Donoghue's Room, which was due at the library.

So the first half went kind of slow. It probably has much more to do with my state of mind and circumstances than with the book itself. But it took me a long, long time to get into the book. I thought the author's approach was difficult to navigate. I couldn't figure out what was going on and where it was happening. There were lots of characters. Just when I figured out who was who, the next section started. By the final section, I had all the characters figured out, and most of them had died or moved on anyway.

The novel starts in India with the patriarch of the family, who chooses country life to that of the big city, and ends with the story of his granddaughter and the orphan boy with whom she was raised. I loved their stories; the preceding ones, not so much. Roy is a wonderful writer. Her images are full and palpable. The smells and sights of India are beautifully captured. I just couldn't quite connect with the characters in the first two sections. Things happened very slowly and then too quickly. But the third section felt just right.

Other novels set in India —or India and America— that I've reviewed here are:
Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Of the six, Cutting for Stone is my absolute favorite, followed by The Secret Daughter and Unaccustomed Earth (although this collection of stories centers on the struggles of Bengali immigrants and their children in America).

1 comment:

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

Maybe this was a good book read at the wrong time? That's happened to me before, I read a book that I know logically is very good and well written, but it doesn't click with me because of what is going on in my life at that moment..

I'll keep a look-out for this one though, it sounds very good.