An Atlas of Impossible Longing

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An Atlas of Impossible Longing by By Anuradha Roy was a sad story, made even a sort of tragic in that it was several generations worth of sadness.  Taking place from the early 1900’s to the years just following India’s Partition in 1947, the book covers some critical points in India’s recent history as well as the caste system.  The novel begins with a man moving his wife to a small village from busy Calcutta, India, where all her family and friends are, and completely isolating her.  The woman raises her children, but ends up going mad by the time she is 50 years old.  The family locks her away in her room.  This is not done with any direct animosity by the other characters, and it is accepted by the woman (who is the family matriarch) which is just confusing to me as a western reader.  It seems so malicious.  Most of the book does, but then it is neither my culture nor my time.   The actions of most of the characters, most of the time, made me want to rip my hair out because they were so against what they themselves wanted or desired.  It was all so self destructive, and so induced by guilt.  And pressure, expectations of family and society.  I think that the main word of the book should be “guilt”.  That was the driving force behind everything.  Such a melancholy book.  While I was completely wrapped up in it for the first half, by the second half, I was annoyed by the behavior of the characters and their treatment of one another.  By the end, I didn’t even like the characters very much anymore, let alone feel anything for them. 
There are other characters in this book- an adopted boy (Mukunda), the biological sister (Bakul, who is a real piece of work, but as an adult she is more likable) well-intentioned, widowed father (Nirmal) and widowed relative (Meera) who comes to care for his daughter and adopted son.  It was too bad that they shoved Meera off, she was a good, solid, and likable character, and it would have been nice to see more of her.  I wanted to like Mukunda, but he grew up to be such an amazing jerk, despite the fact that he was handed many second chances in his life.  At least 4 life altering second chances. 
I really thought I was going to love this book.  And I did- love the first half.  It would have been great to have a more “ended” ending, with less loose ends, and more fully developed characters.  The ones who were mentioned so much should really have been “finished”.  It was all so depressing, frustrating, and mean.  I was sad and angry when I was reading it, and I feel aggravated writing about it.  Kind of like a “what a world!”  feeling.  Why must people hate each other so much, and love to make each other suffer?  Maybe that is the word for the book, not guilt- “suffering”.  Hmmm…that’s a toss up.

On the outskirts of a small town in Bengal, a family lives in solitude in their vast new house. Here, lives intertwine and unravel. A widower struggles with his love for an unmarried cousin. Bakul, a motherless daughter, runs wild with Mukunda, an orphan of unknown caste adopted by the family. Confined in a room at the top of the house, a matriarch goes slowly mad; her husband searches for its cause as he shapes and reshapes his garden. As Mukunda and Bakul grow, their intense closeness matures into something else, and Mukunda is banished to Calcutta. He prospers in the turbulent years after Partition, but his thoughts stay with his home, with Bakul, with all that he has lost—and he knows that he must return.


  1. Sounds like an emotional roller coaster! Great review.

  2. I always feel very depressed when I read stories where the characters endure a lot of suffering, so this book would probably elicit a lot of emotion out of me too!

  3. WOW! Great review of the book. I must say, it sounds like it is a very well written book if it could produce that much emotion out of you!

    I think I would be interested in reading this book – If I was in a good mood!

  4. I can’t believe that they locked the woman up in a room. I love books with a of lot characters, which makes a book interesting, but sometimes it might not. Looks like a interesting book to read. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi Samantha –
    I’m so pleased to have found your blog; it seems we have much in common, although we held opposite opinions about which section of the book we preferred!
    I do agree that this book – as was true of another recent read of mine (and perhaps yours), The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai – seemed fairly relentlessly bleak. And even in the end I suspected that Roy chose not to tie all loose ends together to suggest that the pattern might continue despite some briefly blissful moments. Makes me wonder if these modern writers from India are opening a window onto their worldview, which – maybe in part the influence of Hinduism? – might not be as optimistic as the mythos of the American Dream in the United States? Just a wondering, not a thesis!
    Do come visit me and see what you think of my response to An Atlas of Impossible Longing…
    FYI: The “followers” function wasn’t working when I hopped here, so I couldn’t register; I’ll try back soon.

  6. Darcy-That’s pretty much how I feel as well.
    Cathy- Yes, I do, LOL
    LifeIsaSandcastle- It was both!

  7. This book sounds very interesting, but very intense.

  8. You read lots of “India” books, don’t you?

  9. This was definitely a interesting read, though I do relate to some things you said in your review. I read this book also for review, if you’d like to see it here is the link

  10. She was ok with being locked away? Then she clearly wasn’t crazy enough! Or maybe she was..

    I don’t like books with too many characters that aggravate me. Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s my own issue or how they were written.

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