Friday, May 06, 2011

Reflections: An Atlas of Impossible Longing

Seeking solitude and a niche for himself, Amulya moves to the idyllic village of Songarh, and sets up a factory that manufactures authentic herbal potions from the unique plants of the region. As much as Amulya appreciates Songarh, his family, especially his wife, dearly misses the bustling life of Calcutta. Her loneliness is an implacable longing. The longing starts there. Each person has his or her own deep longing, and grapples to fill the void caused by it. Due to the stringent rules imposed by a complicated social structure, the characters realize that their longing is almost impossible to be quenched. So, they move on and live through life, trying to swim against the currents, until they resign themselves to the path charted by destiny. Anuradha Roy has crafted a moving story and real-to-life characters that leave a strong impression on the reader.

My thoughts on the book are sparse, but the feelings it has evoked, and the images it has burned in my mind, are far too many. The story takes us through three generations, spanning from the 1920s to the 1950s of India. Roy delicately weaves the political and social shifts in this time period into the story. It is subtly and expertly done to vividly show the marked changes these bring about in the lives of the characters. I loved the tight-knit integration. And the sheer breadth of social and political issues she seamlessly covers, is remarkable. She covers caste system, the pitiable treatment of widows, the hindu-muslim rivalry, the cut-throat nature of survival in Calcutta, the impenetrable distance between the English and the locals, the colonial hangover, infidelity, and the dynamics of an orthodox family. It might seem like she went through all the essential check-list items on India, but her execution is impeccable and everything neatly and naturally falls into the story. Nothing is over-done. Her prose has an under-stated elegance in conveying these heavy themes. Through her precise and sensitive descriptions, she captures the heart of India, and Indian families.

Her writing is beautiful - it has a quiet flair to it. Her words are used sparingly, but aptly, to draw her characters and emanate their thoughts and feelings from the pages. Her characterization is brilliant. Although it’s been two days since I finished the book, I still retain crystal clear images of the characters and the settings. And I’m sure I’ll carry these quaint images with me for a long time to come, even if my memory of the story fades.

Digested Thoughts: I loved the book from beginning to end. There was never a moment when I lost interest, and easily continued reading for hours together in the wee hours. The book touched a chord in me. The main characters were personable, and the writing was sublime. I thought long and hard about what rating to give this book, for I realize I’m a bit of a tough-cookie when it comes to giving the highest rating. But I guess the real test of a good book is in its capacity to touch you, and live with you in your thoughts, even after the last pages. When such a book sits on my shelf, I would often pull it open to randomly read a few passages and revel in the writing and setting. For these simple reasons alone, I think this book merits the highest rating I can bestow. 


Karthik said...

Nice ! Reserving the highest rating for only a few books also gives a book critic more credibility :-) A minor point- There is a typo in the title. Not that it matters much, but you seem the kind who'd be particular about these things:-)

Neeraja said...

Thanks for catching that Karthik! Haha, it also matters to which few books I give the highest rating ;)