Title: An Atlas of Impossible Longing
Author: Anuradha Roy
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
An Atlas of Impossible Longing is a multigenerational novel spanning decades, following the course one family sets during the tumultuous early-to-mid twentieth century in India. The novel begins with Amulya and his mentally ill wife Kananbala, and their two sons, Nirmal and Kamal. As fortunes change and lives progress, the book moves onto the new generation, centering on Bakul, Nirmal’s daughter, and Mukunda, the orphan child Amulya chose to support.
I absolutely adore South Asian literature, but sometimes I have trouble taking it. While wonderfully composed, it can be very difficult to read. There is a sense of tragedy that seems to be inherent within the genre, centering on hardship, loss, and abuse. But there is also beauty in this world, along with the heartbreak, and that’s why I loved The Atlas of Impossible Longing – it’s amazingly written, finely wrought, and simple. It’s about the beauty and longing present in everyday life.
Roy is a talented writer; she is incredible at developing layered, nuanced characters effortlessly. Readers fall in love with the personas contained within this book without realizing it. Each person is distinct; sometimes it seems as though Roy is writing a biography rather than fiction because these people seem so real and vivid. Her prose is absolutely gorgeous, yet restrained. She doesn’t allow her words to overwhelm the story, nor does she rely on her prose to smooth out the rough parts of the plot. She recognizes that her language is a tool to deliver a story, and uses it like a master to accomplish that task.
There are many characters within An Atlas of Impossible Longing, but the reader will have no trouble telling them apart, thanks to Roy’s expert character development. My personal favorite was Mukunda; the reader gets to see him grow and change over the course of his life, to become his own man. After he is sent away for school, he longs for Songarh and the life and people he left behind. After he leaves school, his longing changes and fades, but it never completely leaves him. When circumstances force him to revisit Songarh and see Nirmal and Bakul again, he can no longer deny what he feels.
There is heartbreak and difficulty and sadness within the pages of An Atlas of Impossible Longing; after all, this is a book about life, and that’s part of it. But it’s handled so deftly and beautifully that it doesn’t drag the reader down. Indeed, Roy confronts many difficult topics within the pages of this book: caste, mental illness, love in a culture of arranged marriages. It is incredibly realistic; there are no fairy tale endings. Instead, Roy creates a believable picture that is often bittersweet, but has its own beauty nonetheless.
I cannot deliver enough praise to Anuradha Roy for crafting An Atlas of Impossible Longing. This was a novel I absolutely adored from beginning to end. It never lost my interest, and just when I would think that the sadness was too much to bear, a ray of light would shine through. I loved the balance present in this novel, as well as the universal themes of love and longing. This is a book accessible to anyone who has felt love and loss. I can’t recommend it highly enough.