Friday, 31 January 2020


Late in 2018, I had a message from a stranger in the United States. He was delighted, he said, to see Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book included in my list of six favourites in a magazine he had been reading. He was a potter, his name was Jeff Diehl, and he thought the Leach classic was an unusual title to feature on a novelist’s list. I wrote back explaining that though my work was writing and designing book jackets, I made pots too (after a fashion). 

Over the next months this kind stranger replied in careful detail to every question I asked him about kilns, glazes, pots, wheels. He sent me formulae for glazes he thought might work for me; he worked out programmes suited to my new kiln, sent video links, articles. The generosity was staggering. There also came fragments about Lockbridge Pottery, and his family and other animals: his potter-wife Donna, their two sons, their dog and cat. Our messages travelled on the internet, but they felt like letters. 

Donna Diehl and Jeff Diehl tending the salt kiln
After about a year of this archaic pen-friendship, a writing-related trip to America came up for me, and Jeff invited me to come and spend a week with them, learning. Lockbridge Pottery was in a remote part of West Virginia. I looked it up: a dot on the map, lost in vast washes of green and blue: lakes, mountains, gorges, and white water rivers. It was miles from an airport or train station; there were no taxis or hotels.
I never lock myself into situations where there is no escape route, even booking myself aisle seats on long flights so I don’t feel trapped. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I was battered by waves of panic. What did I know of this potter-couple beyond scraps from the internet and their emails? And though they were inviting me into their home, what did they know of me? This was not just high risk, it was lunacy.
I climbed into a train on a chilly September dawn at New York’s Penn Station, and started the long journey south. A mountainous, wheezing man in the next row of seats vacuumed up packet after packet of crunchies and watched reruns of Friends on his notebook. We went past Washington DC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and soon my world of known place-names was gone. As morning turned to afternoon, we passed Alexandria, Culpeper and Clifton Forge. I had never heard of them. In the dining car, two men in Amtrak uniforms sat inhaling the scent of microwaved hot dogs, exchanging slow, rambling stories broken by guffaws. The hills and trees outside made you want to walk into the Blue Ridge Mountains, wander the trails, sit below an autumnal beech tree. There were tiny streets with level crossings, and at one of them, an elderly, bare-bodied man stood below a flag, waving at us, beaming like a child.
After ten and a half hours, I got off with my suitcase at White Sulphur Springs and looked around for the people I only knew from emails. Some reckless mutual leap of faith had led to this moment: two American potters waiting at a tiny station in the Appalachians for a stranger from a small town in the Indian Himalaya.
It was a picture-perfect autumn evening. The sunset coated everything with honey.

Early in our correspondence, Jeff had sent me a film about a friend of his, a master potter from Korea, Kang Hyo Lee. In the film, Kang Hyo spoke of his crisis of faith, a time when he had felt utterly adrift, and left home for several months to meditate and reason it out. After a period of hard thinking came a sense of the elusive truth: “In the past, I thought the important things were far away from me. So I worked hard and thought hard every day in order to get to those important things. But I realised these things were actually close by.”
When you look at the first half of Jeff’s career and compare it to his present, you wonder if such a moment of epiphany came to him too. He has had shows in Korea, at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington DC, and taught students in Germany, China, Korea, and closer home. He has won a shelf-full of awards. Yet now, though he still loves to learn and teach...

Saturday, 18 January 2020


The Nilimarani Sahitya Samman 2020 for contribution to Indian Literature  was instituted by the Odisha's prominent cultural magazine Kadambini. It was given last year to Odiya writer Manoj Das. To receive recognition for my work from writers and editors in Odisha, which has a remarkable literature of its own, was a great honour. The ceremony took place on 5th January in Bhubaneshwar, at a literature festival for local magazines that is run by Kadambini.

(left to right) Achyuta Samanta, MP; Rahul Dev, journalist; Haraprasad Das, writer; Santanu Kumar Archarya, writer; Salman Khursheed, former foreign minister: Rajat Kapoor, theatre director; Mridula Garg, writer; Itirani Samanta, writer and editor
Ever since I’ve come back from Bhubaneshwar I haven’t stopped telling people about the remarkable work that is being done by Kadambini and the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, which is another arm of the organisation. It was wonderful to experience the vibrant literary atmosphere at the festival, and to see thousands of tribal children at classes and games at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences. While the monthly magazine is edited by the writer Itirani Samanta, her brother, M.P. Mr Achyuta Samanta is behind the educational initiative for tribal children. I saw extensive grounds, classrooms, sports facilities, vocational training areas, dormitories, modern kitchens and a bakery at which the most delicious rolls and biscuits were being made.

After school wandering in the grounds

Panel describing some of the main tribes in Odisha

Their classes had just ended

Saturday, 12 October 2019


"Fans of Michael Ondaatje’s recent novel, “Warlight,” will appreciate Roy’s similarly sensitive exploration of a child’s mingled confusion, resentment and hope...Even more captivating than the unexpected turns of this plot is the way she reaches into the depths of melancholy but never 
sinks into despair" 
Ron Charles, Washington Post

"Roy’s skillful blending–of fact and fiction, of personal and political, and of suspense and reward–creates a rich and layered read. But the modern resonances of rising nationalism, in India and beyond, ensure that Roy’s story of what happened in Muntazir transcends its own pages. “Once the letter was read,” Myshkin says, “it would be over and I would have to start waiting again.” It’s a feeling readers may well share"
Naina Bajekal, Time

Replete with the author’s characteristic virtues: an unerring eye for meaningful detail, vividly sensual descriptions of place, the ability to dwell in uncertainty, a luminous empathy for outsiders, misfits, and anyone struggling with limitation, constraint, and oppression... it is admirable, impressive, intelligent. Throughout, its artist characters’ dedication to beauty and meaning in the face of disaster and suffering ... shimmers alluringly"  
Priscilla Gilman, Boston Globe

"The book’s content and tone reminded me of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. It also has a similar success weaving history into the lives of deeply rendered characters....a smart, powerful and ultimately illuminating book"  

Friday, 23 August 2019


Almost each time I am travelling to a country I've never been to, Christopher Maclehose, my publisher, sends me a book for the journey. On my first trip to Bali, he had sent Christina Jordis's Bali, Java, in My Dreams -- which introduced me to Walter Spies and started off my new book. When I was going to Iceland earlier this year for the Reykjavik Literature Festival, he gave me Independent People, by Halldor Laxness.

This magnificent, engimatic tragedy is not to everyone's taste. When it was published in the US, Kirkus Reviews called it "A bleak and bitter book, with little to interest or attract the American reader". But I am not American, and although it mystified me at times and its main character Bjartur often made me very angry, this is one of the most brilliant books I've ever come across. It haunts me still, weeks later, and despite its length I know I'm going to go back to it. I don't know how it read in Icelandic, but in English translation, the writing is magical.

If you have not read it yet, settle in, give it time, lots of time -- think War and Peace or The Idiot -- and you will feel enriched and altered by the end.

Here is a good review of it, from Crooked Timber, by Chris Bertram:

I finished Halldor Laxness’s Independent People a few weeks ago. It took me a very long time to read. Usually this is a sign that I’m not getting on with a book, but not in this case. Rather, Laxness’s prose is so rich, his descriptions are so compelling and his observations so unsettling, that I found it hard to read more than a few pages at a time without taking a break. Certainly it is the best book I’ve read all year, and maybe over the last five or so.

Independent People, which won Laxness the Nobel in 1952, is (among many other things) the story of an Icelandic crofter, Bjartur of Summerhouses and his family, especially his daughter Asta Sollija. Life is hard, it is cold, it rains, there are sheep, there are long discussions about worms and other parasites. Not tempted? I admit that the apparent dreariness of the subject-matter had me doubting when I first bought my copy. But I’d been recommended it by someone who had been so captivated that she’s booked a holiday in Iceland on the strength of the book. Well, when someone whom you think of as having good judgement does that, it is worth giving a book a try.

One way of reading the Independent People is as a satire. The two Icelanders with whom I’ve discussed it say how funny it is (as does Jane Smiley on the cover blurb). Once you are several hundred pages in, it is easier to get the jokes, but much is inevitably lost on non-Icelanders. The title refers to Bjatur’s obsessive desire for independence and the way that he permits neither financial encumbrances nor ties of personal affection to disrupt his independence. In the end, this stubborn refusal of vulnerability turns out to have been a mistake, and a mistake that Laxness sees as permeating the Icelandic national consciousness. But that’s only one way of taking the book. It is also a meditation on peasant life at the edge of survival, on traditional cultures, and, more universally, on human relationships. Bjartur’s understanding of the landscape around him is mediated by his knowledge of myth, of the Icelandic sagas and of a tradition of oral poetry. This understanding of the present in terms of a heroic literary tradition is both mocked and celebrated by Laxness. Celebrated in the way in which Bjartur is able to endow his most mundane of actions with meaning because of his access to that canon; but also mocked because this leads him into a comical misperception of his real relations with both nature and others. He casts himself as a hero, and this enables him to endure against cruel setbacks and in hard conditions; but it also makes it impossible for him to encounter his daughter as a real individual.

I’m going to read the Independent People again soon, since I’m sure that there’s much I’ve missed. Laxness’s writing and insight is often superb. There’s one passage where he describes Bjartur’s quest of a lost sheep that is, in fact, already dead in which he evokes Bjartur’s sense of freedom as being in control in a landscape he identifies with. There’s another in which he sets out in a few lines the difference that losing her virginity makes to Asta’s relationship to her family members, even though it will be a while before the consequences of the act become plain. For some reason these two remain especially clear in my mind, but just about every page is a joy.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

A New Chapter at Lockbridge Pottery

I am going to miss the new show at Lockbridge Pottery on 23rd and 24th August, but cannot believe how lucky I am to be going there the week after because of a hugely generous invitation from potters Jeff Diehl and Donna Diehl.

Jeff Diehl’s work has appeared in many prestigious collections worldwide, including the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Korean Craft Museum. He has been making pots for over forty years. They live and work in a converted schoolhouse, which they renovated and then built kilns around to fire their ceramics. 

Of the pottery, an article by Lucia K. Hyde says: 
Lockbridge Road in Summers County winds for several miles through rolling farmland, past houses and grassy meadows, before arriving at an old, two-room schoolhouse. The school sits well back from the road on tidy grounds. Clusters of flowers bloom around the broad front porch, and the school's canine mascot naps on the stone walkway. In the large field that stretches off to one side, you might expect to see a set of swings and a metal slide, but at this school, potter Jeff Diehl and his family have created their own sort of playground.

In his more than 20-year career as a full-time potter, Diehl has developed both a thriving studio and a lifestyle as beautiful, unique, and functional as his pottery. In 1980, Diehl and his wife, Donna, established Lockbridge Pottery by turning the abandoned country schoolhouse into a ceramic studio and home. Neighbors who had attended the school as children helped the Diehls remodel the beloved building. 'We have great neighbors,' says Diehl. 'They all went to school here. They have been invested in the care of the property and interested in our lives since we moved in.’

One of the old classrooms serves as Diehl's studio, where he spends 45 to 50 hours per week throwing clay. 'I always have fun in here,' claims the award-winning potter. Metal shelves filled with fresh, unfired pieces line the spacious room that also houses Diehl's potter's wheel and office. A collage of photographs, memorabilia, and artwork fills one wall and reflects his three loves: family, ceramics, and kayaking.

The Diehls added bedrooms and a kitchen, bathroom, firing room, wood shop, and newly finished gallery to the school. From the porcelain sink basin in the bathroom to the intricate kitchen counter tiles, evidence of Diehl's handiwork appears in every corner of the house. The Diehls have also used the building to raise and home school their two sons, Erik and Andrew. Both teenaged boys are accomplished potters, musicians, and kayakers. The whole family assists Diehl with glazing and firing his pottery. 'My family helps out tremendously,' says Diehl. 'They are a critical aspect of the operation.' 

 I'm so looking forward to learning from them, getting to know how a real pottery functions day to day, and most importantly, making friends with their dog,Lucy.

Have a look at their wonderful gallery here.

While there, I'm going to do a reading -- A New Chapter bookstore, Lewisburg. 
This will be on 13th September 2019.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019


Out now in Indian Quarterly

Read the complete essay here

The wind’s direction has been changing from south-west to north-north-east on my phone’s weather app as irregularly as a breeze throws around leaves. The sky clouds over, rain follows, icy with hail sometimes. The cold’s teeth sharpen. Snow is possible again and, although we know the mess afterwards, we want to be suspended in the dreamy silence it brings. This year though, there has been mostly sleet and ground frost that melted into muck, only once or twice the enchantments of a snowfall.

This doesn’t feel like the start of warmth, but the earth knows more than humans do. Just a few days into February, in our part of the Himalaya, the soil changed. Overnight it had become loamier, more friable. The ice-hard, cold-dead ground was coming back to life. Worms slid through the clods when I forked the earth. Beads of green dotted the bare brown, multiplying every new morning into grass and weeds. In another week, below the budding plum trees, the white tips of bulbs planted months ago had pushed their way towards the light.

Itching to muddy my hands, I thought I’d knock my pot-bound chrysanthemums out to divide and replant them. Out of the pot, I found that the roots of the overgrown chrysanthemum plants had twisted round and round from the top downward to the base of the pot. The entire caked soil was in the tight embrace of the corkscrewed roots. I had to twist and very gently prise them apart until I had separated the tiny saplings and could plant them in the ground. Now, from one plant I had twenty.

Many people advise wearing gardening gloves, and it’s sensible to do that when dealing with thorns or nettles, but you can damage tender roots and shoots with those clumsy big gloves. You need to feel things with your fingers: real maalis never wear gloves. Some years ago, on BBC Radio, the gardener and writer Anna Pavord was being interviewed for Desert Island Discs, and she described dragging herself along the floor towards grass and earth when she came out of an intensive care unit after surgery for stomach cancer:

“When I could actually move… one day I was in a different room and there was a patch of lawn outside the window… On my hands and knees I crawled along the corridor to get out onto that grass. I just needed to feel the real world. The real world to me is not buildings, it’s not cement or tarmac, it’s not all the stuff of which so much of the world is now constructed.”

She went on to talk about why she did not wear gloves when gardening:

“I like to feel the plants, I like to feel the earth, I get a real sensuous pleasure from the touch of plants and from the touch of the earth and, you know, the feel of sticks and all the other things you sort of have to touch when you’re gardening. It’s all part of it.”

Our patch of the mountains is ringed by deodar, Indian Cedar trees that are at least a hundred years old and, for that length of time, they have been covering the earth underneath with their needles and pollen. The needles blanket the ground, a mat that suffocates other growth and releases acid juices as it disintegrates. On this acid soil there had been a building: once a cow shed, it was turned into a two-storeyed cottage which was later abandoned; empty for years, it disintegrated into a heap of mud plaster, stone blocks, rotting wood and shards of window panes. The hump of land on which this shell stood when we found it had become, for generations of goats and humans, a rubbish heap and grazing ground. But the ruined cottage faced north: a long sweep of Himalayan snow peaks, including the Nanda Devi, was on the horizon. We decided to remake the cottage to live in it.

Once we began living in the remade cottage, we had to clear all that was not soil year after year, going down deeper as if at an archaeological dig. Construction rubble had now been added to the rubbish of decades. What if we find hidden treasure, the village women digging with me fantasised. Gold. A pot of ancient silver coins even. It’s been known to happen. But the closest we came to history were colonial-era sardine cans. For the rest, we dug out glass bottles, discarded syringes, medicine foil, age-blurred polythene packaging. We have had to feed our patch for years—hundreds of sacks of cow dung manure by now—to turn that wasted earth into dark brown soil in which things could grow.

Read the remaining essay here

Wednesday, 6 March 2019


Wonderful to know that All the Lives We Never Lived 
is in this amazing list of books 
nominated for the 2019 Walter Scott Prize.

Sunday, 6 January 2019


This is a Guest Post by Madhumita Mazumdar, who discovered an intriguing story behind the flowers and foliage planned for the city she lives in, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

Photograph by Partha Chowdhury shows an avenue of Amaltas (Cassia Fistula) in Dwarka, Delhi

One of the many things I loved about Myshkin Chand Rozario, one of the enigmatic protagonists of Anuradha Roy’s novel All the Lives We Never Lived, was his job as Horticultural Superintendent in the small town of Muntazir in the foothills of the Himalayas. Though often derided as “glorified gardner” Myshkin took immense pride in what he believed was his precious bequest to the little town -- its rows of carefully planted sheltering and flowering trees along major roads and pathways. He knew well he where he had to plant the white and purple orchids, the flaming red Gulmohurs, the Amaltases, the brilliantly hued kachnars, the softer pastels of the resham ruis. The streets were colour coded around the images their names conjured -- some magical some mundane.

Myshkin’s story came back to me rather oddly as I read a curious bit of city news a couple of days ago. The title of the news story suggested that streets of Gandhinagar, Gujarat, were about to be saffronised. I reckoned it would be a Yogi-like project of pavements and buildings in saffron – a project through which the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, has been painting everything from buildings to toilets a bright Hindu saffron, even the Haj Building. But it turned out to be a little different. Civic authorities had decided to plant two of the busiest roads leading to the Secretariat with saffron-hued flowering trees. Apart from the gulmohur there would be the ‘kesuda’ and the ‘raktarag’. “We will plant new trees and shrubs according to the colour code of each road,” said Chief Conservator Forests, “but plant the Gulmohurs, Kesudas, and the Rugminis in a sequence of subtly varying saffron shades along a long and wide stretch of road with bougainvilleas along the dividers”.
Gulmohur (Delonix Regia) in bloom in Delhi
Myshkin planted his row of Gulmohurs and Amaltases on a road bearing the name of Begum Akhtar. He felt the flowers would reflect the “romance and intensity of the singer -- as a fireworks display of red and gold through the summer.” Far removed from the romantic world of Myshkin’s imagination, the Chief Conservator of Forests, Gujarat believes the flaming Gulmohurs along ‘Gh’ road and ‘Ch’ road in Gandhinagar would bloom and rear up in April and May close to the elections -- blazing our eyes and filling our minds with the many splendours of saffron!

I love Gulmohurs but this bit of news leaves me with a strange sense of unease.

Madhumita Mazumdar is at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information Communication Technology, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

You might also want to read:
"As the billboards fall in Bengaluru, will citizens reclaim the city and its trees?" by T. R. Shankar Raman

Friday, 14 December 2018

The Rosalind Wilson Memorial Book Discussion

The Rosalind Wilson Memorial Lecture has been a fixture on the Delhi school calendar for more than twenty years, and has featured writers such as Vikram Seth and William Dalrymple.
 This year, the book being discussed was All the Lives We Never Lived.

Springdales School organizes the discussion to honour the memory of Rosalind Wilson, who taught there. She was an English teacher at the school and also served as the head of the English department. She later founded and edited the popular children magazine Target. She died at the age of 49 in 1992.

The Principal of the school, Mrs Ameeta Mulla Wattal, wrote in with this report of the discussion, which took place on 14th December 2018.
 "The book discussion was riveting. Over 150 students across schools in the National Capital Region participated.
All students had not only read the book but were very perceptive in giving their views on the issues in the novel.
Gender justice, the politics of colonialists, questions of individual liberty versus pressures of society, the idea of freedom and the dynamics of the self were some of the points raised.
Students even revised and revalued their own positions at the end of the discussion. It was heartening to see the way they were able to connect the content of the novel with current concerns. Nationalism, the new laws on adultery, article 377, the whole debate around gender and so on.
The discussion was moderated by Dr. Nirmalya Samanta, an alumni of the school, who is extremely bright and is able to bring out the best in students during a book discussion.
His inputs were valuable"
Listening to the students discussing the book, it was striking how much intelligence, thought and empathy there was in their readings. Different students reacted to different aspect of the book: one noticed man's relationship with nature and solitude; another observed that by focusing on a woman and child, the book had decisively shifted the focus away from dominant nationalist narratives. With charming candour, one of them confessing to finding the narrative too slow until she "got into" it and was swept away by it. 
Most students had perceptive and refreshingly unpretentious things to say. They may be a part of the Snapchat and Whatsapp generation, but are obviously love reading critically, at length and in depth as well. Despairing adults are given to moaning over the how social media is ruining the young, but if this discussion was anything to go by, all is not lost -- at all.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Winner of the Tata Book of the Year: All the Lives We Never Lived

All the Lives We Never Lived won the Tata Book of the Year Award on the 18th of November in Bombay, India. Speaking of the book, the judges said that its prose was "glittering" and that the book "did not put one foot wrong" in dealing with complex and varying themes.
Also on the shortlist were Janice Pariat's Nine-Chambered Heart and Tabish Khair's Night of Happiness.


20 November:  Publication Day in the US and Canada. 

The pre-publication reviews have been wonderful, and the book has featured in several lists of essential reading, including TIME and WASHINGTON POST. It has also been listed in Bustle, Entertainment Weekly, The Millions, LitHub, Afar, and Shelf Awareness, among others. Book Riot's quirky Horoscopes and Book Recommendations for November recommends it especially for Librans!

"Roy’s skillful blending–of fact and fiction, of personal and political, and of suspense and reward–creates a rich and layered read. But the modern resonances of rising nationalism, in India and beyond, ensure that Roy’s story of what happened in Muntazir transcends its own pages. “Once the letter was read,” Myshkin says, “it would be over and I would have to start waiting again.” It’s a feeling readers may well share."

Naina Bajekal, Time

"Lyrical, subtle, [and] finely observant... A novel of history, both global and personal, gracefully wrought."
Kirkus Reviews

"[A] moving tale... Roy (Sleeping on Jupiter, 2016) peppers her novel with intricate descriptions of small-town India and weaves an eloquent and tragic story of straitjacketed lives upended when history and personal ambition intersect." Booklist (starred review)

"A lush and lyrical fusion of history and storytelling... This mesmerizing exploration of the darker consequences of freedom, love, and loyalty is an astonishing display of Roy’s literary prowess."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This novel has an epic feel but also portrays the feelings of an abandoned child and captured woman while strongly evoking the sounds, scents, plants, people, and social structures of India at the time."
Library Journal

"Already published in Britain, the novel has been called 'elegiac,' compelling, and powerful, among other things. Conceived during a time Roy spent in Bali, this is an affecting novel."
The Millions

"Spanning World War II Germany to present-day India, Anuradha Roy's latest novel presents a powerful portrayal of love as a son goes in search of the truth about his mother."

"Historical details make this work truly shine, and readers will become deeply invested in the Rozario family."

"A sweeping novel set against the backdrops of the Second World War and India’s struggle for independence, All the Lives We Never Lived narrows in on a son’s quest to make sense of his mother’s choices. Weaving in both fictional and historically accurate characters, the book highlights the impact of imperial powers, as well as the oppression that dictated women’s lives in the early part of the 20th century." 

"Roy zeroes in on small moments of connection, showing how even in the midst of great national upheaval, it's those moments that ultimately prove the most profound... Anuradha Roy's All the Lives We Never Lived paints a thoughtful portrait of family and freedom in the midst of the political upheaval of the Indian independence movement." 
Shelf Awareness

Wednesday, 31 October 2018













(Almost all of these images are in the copyright of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Please do not reproduce without permission.)

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Shortlisted for the JCB Prize and Longlisted for the DSC Prize

This has been a dizzying couple of weeks. All the Lives we Never Lived was shortlisted, on 3rd October, for the JCB Literature Prize. And today it has been announced that it is part of the longlist for DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.
"The longlist represents the best of South Asian fiction writing over the last year and includes submissions from a diverse mix of publishers and authors of different backgrounds writing on a wide range of issues and themes. The novels include stunning portrayals of migration, war and the pain of displacement, poignant love stories, the exploration of new found relationships and identities, and vivification of the personal struggles, hopes and aspirations that symbolize the urgent and divisive realities of contemporary South Asian life," the Prize committee said in a statement.

Apart from authors based in South Asia, it also features those based outside the region who have brought alive the subtle nuances of South Asian life and culture.

Among the longlisted authors and their works are: Anuradha Roy for "All The Lives We Never Lived"; Arundhati Roy for "The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness"; Chandrakanta for "The Saga Of Satisar", translated by Ranjana Kaul; Deepak Unnikrishnan for "Temporary People"; Jayant Kaikini for "No Presents Please", translated by Tejaswini Niranjana; Jeet Thayil for "The Book Of Chocolate Saints"; and Kamila Shamsie for "Home Fire".

The longlist further features Manu Joseph for "Miss Laila Armed And Dangerous"; Mohsin Hamid for "Exit West"; Neel Mukherjee for "A State Of Freedom"; Perumal Murugan for "Poonachi", translated by N. Kalyan Raman; Prayaag Akbar for "Leila"; Rita Chowdhury for "Chinatown Days", translated by Rita Chowdhury; SJ Sindu for "Marriage Of A Thousand Lies"; Sujit Saraf for "Harilal & Sons"; and Tabish Khair for "Night Of Happiness".

The longlist was unveiled at the Oxford Bookstore here and features four translated works from Assamese, Kannada, Tamil and Hindi. Six of the longlisted authors are women, besides three other women translators. Two debut novels have also been recognised by the jury panel, chaired by historian and academic Rudrangshu Mukherjee.

(Information sourced from here)

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Soon out in the US and Canada

A couple of months to go before its US release, All the Lives We Never Lived has a starred review in Publisher's Weekly. Describing it as a "lush and lyrical fusion of history and storytelling", the review goes on to say:

"This mesmerizing exploration of the darker consequences of freedom, love, and loyalty is an astonishing display of Roy’s literary prowess"

Read the complete review here.

Chigozie Obioma, author of The Fishermen, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize said:

"All the Lives We Never Lived is a moving and beautiful story of loss, of the lives of those beloved to us. What makes this novel so special is the sinuous way Anuradha Roy seamlessly and masterfully shuttles between time, overlaying the past with the present, mystery with knowledge to cumulatively create a brilliant tapestry of that is the story."

A number of newspapers and book sites listed this as one of their books to look forward to this Fall. Among them are Washington Post, Southern Living, LitHub, and The Millions.

The novel will be published in hardback in the US and Canada on 20th November.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

All the Lives We Never Lived is longlisted for the JCB Award

The longlist for the first JCB Prize for Literature contained ten books, among them All the Lives We Never Lived. Describing the book, the jury remarked:

"This beautiful novel, set in the southeast Asia of the 1930s, evokes beautiful imagery of places and landscapes. It does its work quietly and with great subtlety, but it is a novel of big ideas."

Read more about it here.

The JCB Prize for Literature is a Rs 25-lakh award presented each year to a distinguished work of fiction by an Indian author, as selected by the jury.The shortlist will be announced on 3 October. Read more about the other books on the longlist here.

Monday, 27 August 2018

All the Lives We Never Lived travels to Sri Lanka

In 2016, I went to Sri Lanka for the first time, for the Galle Book Festival, and was interviewed for one of the panels by Ameena Hussein. She was dazzling -- widely read, perceptive, quick-thinking, free-wheeling. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had of being in a literary event.

Through the course of the festival, and during one of their trips to India, I had the chance to get to know Ameena and her partner Sam Perera better. Much as Rukun Advani and I run Permanent Black, they run an independent publishing house, Perera-Hussein. Besides this, Ameena is a writer, author of The Moon in the Water (long listed for the Man Asia Prize) and two award-winning short story collections.

Perera-Hussein was established in December 2003, and has a list that includes writers such as Gananath Obeysekere, Nayomi Munaweera, and Nayanjot Lahiri. And this month, Perera-Hussein published All the Lives We Never Lived in Sri Lanka. It is out now in paperback, priced 1250 Sri Lankan Rupees.

You can buy it in Sri Lanka from their website or from Barefoot | Cargills (Majestic City) | Carrousel de Galle | Daniels | Expo Graphics ! Gihan Books (Dehiwela) | Jeya | Kalaya | Kiyavana Nuvana | Lake House | MD Gunasena | Odel | Pitraban ! Rohan's Kiosk (Liberty Plaza)| Samayawardhana Bookshop | Sarasavi | Serendib ! Sooriya Village (Havelock Town) | Vijitha Yapa

Saturday, 4 August 2018

All the Lives We Never Lives reviewed in Spectator

Is Anuradha Roy India’s greatest living novelist?

Beautifully out of sync: All the Lives We Never Lives reviewed in Spectator
David Patrikarakos

Anuradha Roy (image: Getty)

David Patrikarakos

14 July 2018

9:00 AM

All the Lives We Never Lived Anuradha Roy

MacLehose, pp.336, £16.99

‘Myshkin’ wants ‘a tiding ending’ to his life and has settled down to write his will. An ageing Indian horticulturalist, his childhood nickname (after Dostoevsky’s protagonist in The Idiot) remains. It is the first sign that this is a novel about people out of sync with their times and their surroundings.

Abandoned by his mother as a child, Myshkin has received a letter ‘pulsing with the energy every unopened letter in the world has’. It involves his mother but he cannot bear to open it. Instead he narrates her life, and his own, one of tending trees with commendable diligence, and waiting for her return.

As with Roy’s previous work, the prose is intensely visual. The novel is a vista of ‘bulbous slate-grey clouds’; it’s filled with characters who ‘ladle out advice’. And in the style is the meaning: ‘The day my mother left was like any other. It was a monsoon morning,’ Myshkin informs us. Two perfunctory, contrasting sentences prepare the reader for the normalisation of disorder that characterises the novel.

And so it should. Myshkin’s mother walks out on her young son to take up with the (real-life) German painter Walter Spies. She is a woman whose father was determined to nurture her gifts not because ‘daughters were meant to have talents: those that would work as bait to catch a husband’, but because he had ‘seen a spark inside his daughter that could light up whole cities if tended’.

From this starting point, Roy’s narration intermingles fact and fiction, history with fantasy, to superb effect. The young Myshkin watches Axis prisoners of war pass through his hometown of Muntazir on a train — and is aghast. ‘We were accustomed to Indians being skeletal and diseased,’ he observes. ‘But white men were born never to resemble them.’ It’s the ‘were born never to’ that does the heavy lifting here — the essence of colonialism captured in one throwaway clause.

But this is no leaden anti-colonial polemic — Roy is too subtle a writer for that. Myshkin’s staid and obstinate father is not a sympathetic figure: devoting himself to the cause of wider independence while neglecting his familial duties.

Taking in the second world war, the fight for Indian independence and occasionally fast-forwarding into the 1990s, All the Lives We Never Lived is ultimately both a work of beautifully realised history and personal narrative. The cover blurb tells us that Roy is ‘one of India’s greatest living authors’. On this evidence it’s hard to disagree.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Profile by Claire Armitstead in the Guardian

Her latest novel features artists, radicals and political upheaval drawn from real life. The writer talks about social change, authenticity and the Himalayas

Such journalistic broadsides might lead one to expect that her novels would be equally polemical, but the longlisting of her third novel for the Man Booker prize in 2015 drew the world’s attention to a singular novelist capable of combining a no-holds barred analysis of India’s sexual hypocrisies with a delicate social comedy involving three elderly women on a temple pilgrimage.

Anuradha Roy with Miska. Photo by Christopher Maclehose
Where Sleeping on Jupiter was sharp and contemporary, her new novel sounds a more melancholy note. All the Lives We Never Lived is set against the tumultuous history of the 20th century, as India is dragged into a war that is not of its making and then abruptly liberated of colonial rule to make what it can of independence. Roy’s approach to this upheaval is characteristically oblique. The vacated bungalows of the British Raj in 1947 create a gardening problem for a new class of civil servant unfamiliar with the concept of land as leisure; the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi a year later is seen not in terms of the communal violence that provoked it but through its impact on Sydney Percy-Lancaster, the Anglo-Indian horticulturalist who is charged with providing enough flowers for planes to strew petals along five miles of funeral route.

Percy-Lancaster is one of several characters from history in the novel; they include the poet Rabindranath Tagore and the German painter and curator Walter Spies. Roy feeds the words of these figures – gleaned from diaries, letters and newspaper columns – through the consciousness of Myshkin, a fictional apprentice to Percy-Lancaster. When Myshkin was nine, his mother left him and his father, a political radical, to run away to Bali with Spies; he narrates the story in old age, looking back on his mother’s departure as the defining trauma of his life.

“I’d been carrying him around for a while,” Roy says of Myshkin. “When I first started, what I had in my mind was a little boy who was so immersed in pictures that he became them.” Her search took her to Bali, where she discovered paintings by Spies, who was credited with raising awareness of Balinese culture in the west in the early 20th century. “When I researched Spies, it was as if the dots of light on a map were starting to blink.”

It turned out that he had collaborated on an influential book about Balinese dance and theatre with another of the novel’s bohemian émigrés, the English dancer Beryl de Zoete, whose aquiline elegance was immortalised by the photographer Cecil Beaton. Spies had also acted as guide to Tagore when the Bengali poet visited Bali in 1927 in the company of an Indian academic who kept a detailed record of their travels. Collected into a book which is only available in Bengali, the writings of Tagore’s Boswell – Suniti Chatterji – provided a version of Indonesian history and culture that was very different to romantic European visions of “this enchanted island”.

Roy, who writes in English but speaks “Bengali with my mother”, Hindi and English with her husband and “Hindi to the dogs”, was well-placed to process this source material – some of which hadn’t been read for nearly a century. “I really felt when I was writing this book that all sorts of windows were opening up in my head,” she says, though she was aware of the risks of over-researching. “When you’re writing a historical novel with historical figures you can become burdened by the demands of authenticity. I wanted it to sit quite lightly.”

Her first novel, An Atlas of Impossible Longing, also covered India’s early 20th-century history, though without the complication of real people. Published in 2008, it told the story of three generations of a Bengali family whose disintegrating houses speak of their faltering ambitions and fortunes – from a colonnaded riverside villa, in constant danger of being swept away, to a secretive forest house with its back to the road.

Roy herself lives on a remote hill farm in the Himalayas with her publisher husband, and the story of how they came to be there could come directly from one of her novels. Born in 1967 in Calcutta, the younger of two children, she spent her infancy living in makeshift camps as the family followed her field geologist father around some of India’s remotest regions. A picture of her mother washing clothes in a river while Anuradha and her brother look on from boulders attests to the material hardship behind this childhood idyll.

When she was seven years old, her father suffered the first of the heart attacks from which he would die when she was 19. The family were grounded in Hyderabad, where she went to local private schools before landing a university place to study English literature in Calcutta. As the future loomed with nothing obvious to fill it after graduation, she and a group of girlfriends dug out an old typewriter and decided to apply to Oxford and Cambridge “for a lark”. To her astonishment, they wrote back and she found herself enrolling for a second English degree at what was then New Hall (now Murray Edwards College), Cambridge.

After returning home for a while to look after her mother – “my father’s death was still raw for her” – she moved north to Delhi and landed a job with Oxford University Press, where she met a promising novelist turned star editor, Rukun Advani. For three years they worked together, until he was offered a writing residency in Scotland, and she could only get a visa to join him as his wife. When they decided to get married, there were difficulties: Roy says she was informed that OUP policy prohibited married couples from working together (although OUP disputed this). She left the company and Advani resigned in protest.

“It was absolutely ghastly. We had no money. They even took the car back before we could clear out our stuff,” Roy recalls. As the news spread, outraged writers began to cancel their contracts. “One of them said they’d left OUP, so what were we going to do about it?” So began Permanent Black, the academic publishing company which the couple founded in 2000. They named it after the ink pens they both liked to use, but also to honour their sense of “otherness … It felt like a different colour and identity from the very elite white publishing in the west.”

Starting from scratch was tough. A publisher friend gave them his mother’s old car along with the keys to a dilapidated house in the Himalayan foothills, which they restored, and where they now live and work. A writer – Sheila Dhar, to whom All the Lives We Never Lived is dedicated – bought Roy a laptop after seeing the couple squabbling over who was going to use their computer.

Permanent Black now publishes around a dozen books a year, and has a backlist of more than 400 titles, with Roy doing the design and publicity while Advani looks after the editing, rights and accounting. When her thoughts turned to writing her own novels, she assumed that she would have an easy ride – but she found herself back at the bottom of the heap, confronting 16 rejections. It was only when she bumped into the British publisher Christopher MacLehose at the London Book Fair that her luck changed. “He was very forbidding but he took 50 pages away with him, and at the end of the book fair said he’d like to read the rest.”

An Atlas of Impossible Longing, which was translated into 18 languages, was followed three years later by The Folded Earth, before they hit the Booker longlist jackpot with Sleeping on Jupiter. Roy wouldn’t publish with anyone else and doesn’t have an agent, saying “Of course I’ve had approaches, but I’m happier without one.”

The Himalayan setting of The Folded Earth gives a sense of the appeal of mountain life, with peaks glimmering in the dusk “as if jagged pieces of the moon had dropped from sky to earth”. But though Roy is a nature lover, who has carved her own garden from the rubble-strewn hillside, she is too political a writer to let herself be carried away by an ideal of natural beauty. In her novel, rumours of espionage and border raids swirl around a community in which a young girl is attacked by a political enforcer. Does she feel personally threatened in her mountain hideway? Not at all, she says. “Sometimes not seeing friends or having a cultural life feels very unhappy-making – and we have very shaky internet, which is a source of daily trauma – but it’s one of the few places in the country where I feel completely safe. There’s nobody there, and I have three very large mountain dogs.”
She writes in the mornings and afternoons, spends the evening on her design work, and now has a second cottage dedicated to her pottery. She doesn’t sell it, she says, “because if it’s beautiful I wouldn’t want to part with it and if it’s ugly nobody would want to buy it”, but it means that she drinks her morning coffee from a pot she’s made herself.

In All the Lives We Never Lived, Myshkin recalls his battles with his activist father. “Could I really not see what a gigantic project there was ahead for every young, patriotic Indian. Was I blind? When our just-freed country had to be pulled out of poverty, hunger, violence, illiteracy – what I wanted to do was grow flowers?”

There’s something of both father and son in Roy, who sits in her garden raging at a nation that is still beset with poverty and violence 70 years on. Days after our interview, as she is making her way home, she sends an email suffused with the observational detail that brings such a bloom to her fictional world. “Here we have rain,” she writes. “I am briefly in Delhi, green and monsoony, and saw a peacock pirouetting in a garden yesterday, which transformed this grubby old city in one second flat.”