Day 63: An Atlas of Impossible Longing

Cover for An Atlas of Impossible LongingIn An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy, a family in turn of the (20th) century Bengal lives in a small remote village where the husband has moved for business. He, Amulya Babu, neglects his wife Kananbala for work, but he supports a boy in the local orphanage named Mukunda. Amulya and Kananbala have two grown sons, Kamal and Nirmal. Nirmal marries Shanti and is happy with her. But after she dies at her father’s house in childbirth, he deserts his family. His daughter Bakul is brought up in his father’s house by Kamal and his wife and by Kananbala, who is soon widowed.

On one of Nirmal’s visits after his father’s death, he goes to the orphanage to see who his father has been supporting for years and brings back Mukunda, who is casteless because no one knows his parentage. Mukunda and Bakul are raised together and allowed to run wild as each other’s only friends and companions.

The story eventually becomes about the relationship between Mukunda and Bakul and in the last section is narrated by Mukunda.

I had an ambivalent reaction to the book. I felt that the glimpses of Indian life were interesting and so was the historical context, even though momentous events are touched upon lightly. The book spans about thirty or forty years and three generations, ending in the 1940’s or 50’s. For a novel of such scope, however, it seemed too short to adequately develop the material. In the multigeneration story and the themes of the book, I was reminded of two other recent books, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar. But both of these books were much more satisfying.

I felt little connection to any of the characters, who seemed sketchily depicted. The love story that the book focuses on in the final part of the book is the least interesting part of the story because Roy has not made me care about either of the lovers. I was curious about what would happen but at the same time did not care very much about which way things would go.

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