An Atlas of Impossible Longing, Paperback
5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Beginning in 1907 with the founding of a factory in Songarh, a small provincial town where narrow attitudes prevail, the story is of three generations of an Indian family, brilliantly told, in which a sensitive and intelligent foundling boy orphan who is casteless and without religion and Bakul, the motherless granddaughter of the house, grow up together.

The boy, Mukunda, spends his time as a servant in the house or reading the books of Mrs Barnum, an Anglo-Englishwoman whose life was saved long ago by Bakul's grandmother, by now demented by loneliness.

Mrs Barnum gives Mukunda the run of her house, but as he and Bakul grow, they become aware that their intense closeness is becoming something else, and Bakul's father is warned to separate them.

He banishes Mukunda to a school in Calcutta. The many strands of this intensely fashioned narrative converge when Mukunda, by now a successful businessman, returns to Songarh years after he has been exiled from the only home he knew, to resolve the family's destiny.




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Review by

The ‘impossible longings’ of this fine novel are caused by the social restrictions imposed on Indians of low caste, and on women, in 20th century India. The story is in three parts, set in the 1920’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. In part one, Amulya’s wife, Kananbala, forced to live in the remote village of Songarh, finds her life to be empty, apart from her son, Nirmal, and the strange doings at the Barnum house across the road (where she witnesses a murder). Kananbala gradually succumbs to dementia. Nirmal marries Shasti, who dies in childbirth. Bakul, Nirmal’s daughter, is brought up in Amulya’s household, along with the orphan, Mukunda, and they become inseparable, until Nirmal is forced by his brother and sister-in-law, to send Mukunda off to boarding school.After graduating from school, Mukunda works for a shady property developer in Calcutta. He marries and has a son, but coincidentally is drawn into saving his old family home from the developer, by purchasing it and consequently plunging his new family into poverty and squalor. Mukunda is finally reunited with Bakul, his childhood friend. The characters, background and social tensions are all beautifully developed in this well written novel.

Review by

I too bought this book by mistake, I was looking instead for Arundathi Roy's God of Small Things. However I believe that it was a mistake I would gladly make again.I enjoyed this book tremendously, it was beautifully written and draws you in. While I had trouble reading it due to it's slow phase (Spanning three generations of characters) once I got over it, I could not stop. It's melancholic, infused with realism and there isn't a point where I could deny the possibility of it happening in real life. The authoress captured the essence of India perfectly, from the silent and lifeless villages to the bustling, chaotic Calcutta. I liked how she pulled away from a third person perspective to finally introducing the readers to a first person narrative.There were a few parts though that pained me. The first was how the authoress sift through characters without prior thought, namely Meera and Suleiman Chacha. I would have liked to know more about them, what happened to Meera for instance after she left Songarh. It seemed a little rushed to me but maybe it's the style. The ending was good, bittersweet and nothing too fairy-tale like but I had to think about Mukunda's wife. Yes, given the circumstances, they are technically separated but I don't see the justification in ending the story there without any follow up.Overall, I found this book to be quite the jewel.

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