Although An Atlas of Impossible Longing is far from my own childhood in Philadelphia, this debut American novel by Anuradha Roy speaks to the universals that connect us all. This is the story of how a family is built, how it comes together and how it ultimately is torn apart. Whether growing up in Philadelphia or in the heavily detailed cities in Roy’s novel, there is something for everyone to connect with in this book.
Start you summer reading list with this exotic read by Anuradha Roy:
An Atlas of Impossible Longing:
“The river will make this house its own. What are these grand houses but arrogance? My grandfather would boast of the Italian marble. That marble will be the river’s bed now. Fish will swim in and out of our finest teak shelves and nibble our ivory figurines. Frog will lay eggs in our English porcelain, water snakes will twine our pillars. The windows will stare into weeds, the ink from our papers will colour the water black, moss will ooze out of burst bedding, beds and chairs will float out like boats, the rooms will lie empty for fish to breed in them.
Sharp lines of rain shot into the verandah. The breeze soaked his clothes and his spellbound face. His lips moved unheard. “The arrogance,” he whispered, “the arrogance.” (74)
So begins one of the strong dramatic turns in An Atlas of Impossible Longing, the debut American novel by Anuradha Roy. This is tragic and heartfelt story spans three generations of a Bengali family. It begins with the prosperous businessman Amulya, who builds a magnificent home which becomes a sort of prison for his wife, Kananbala. The story follows the path of their two sons, the daughter of the younger son, Bakul, and a young orphaned boy, Mukunda, who Amulya places in a home and sets up provisions for in his will. As Bakul and Mukunda’s lives become irreversibly intertwined,so too will readers in this hard to put down epic tale.
Roy takes on the epic task of following this family saga with grace and lush attention to detail. The characters will come alive off the page even as the rich sensory details paint a picture with delicately woven brushstrokes. You will love the English neighbor and the inappropriate outbursts of the aging Kananbala. But, mostly, you will feel the connection between Bakul and Mukunda grow from childhood innocence through adolescence and the unending ties that will always bring them together.
An Atlas of Impossible Longing will keep you turning pages. Just when you think there are no more twists and turns, Roy will surprise and delight you with more. The lyrical lines are enticing; the attention to detail, cinematic. The slow pace Roy uses to strip away the onion-like layers of this entangled family drama will grip the reader like a haunting song you will not want to get out of your head.