Wednesday, 27 April 2011


"Every once in a great while, a novel comes along to remind you why you rummage through shelves in the first place. Why you peck like a magpie past the bright glitter of publishers’ promises. Why you read.
No “news hook” will have brought you to it. No famous name on the spine will suggest what’s in store. But as you slip into the book’s pages, you sense you are entering a singular creation, a richly populated world. Curiosity overcomes you. Before long, you are surrendering to the voice of a confident narrator, the arc of an unfamiliar story. And then, suddenly, you are swept away in a tale that is bristling with incident, steeped in the human condition, buffeted by winds of fate. This, you think, is the feeling you had as you read “Great Expectations” or “Sophie’s Choice” or “The Kite Runner.” This is why you read fiction at all"

Friday, 22 April 2011

The Music in Atlas

I discovered a fabulous new website called Largeheartedboy, for books and music, when they asked me to write about the music in my first book. In their Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book. I went to the site and looked up the music other writers had written about and was entranced -- how extraordinary to discover a book through music and new music through books! What could possibly be more obviously a good thing, yet so rarely done?
A still from The Cloud-capped Star.
A beautiful song from this film is in my playlist.
When I thought about it, I realized that An Atlas of Impossible Longing is filled with different kinds of music. Some of it was in my own head as I was writing it, but a lot of music is referred to in the book as well.
India has its own sophisticated, courtly, classical traditions, both instrumental and vocal; there is devotional music, both Hindu and Sufi; there are varieties of folk music in the different regions of India. There are songs in Indian movies, in which the music is influenced by just about everything. All this music happens in many different languages and uses a huge range of eastern instruments such as the sitar, tabla, sarod, ektara and so on, as well as western ones.
My book is set in India in the first half of the twentieth century, in a small town with a rural, tribal hinterland. One of the important characters is Mrs Barnum, half-Indian half-British, married to an Englishman. Her kind of people made Indian music as diverse as it is. Music hall songs, pop, western classical music, jazz, church music – all came here with the British and French and Dutch and in time mingled with the local traditions of music. Fusion came here early.
Look at my playlist and listen to the music in the book here. All the music mentioned is linked within the site.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

GIVEAWAY FROM GOODREADS is giving away 5 copies of An Atlas of Impossible Longing. Introducing the book, it says, "In the tradition of Henning Mankell, Per Petterson, and Stieg Larsson, Roy is a major foreign success just waiting to storm the American literary scene. This is the novel that will usher her entrance, portraying several generations of family life in India with the sort of warmth, tension, and lavish detail that bestsellers are made of." Here's the link to the contest.

The New Yorker reviewed the book in its brief notes this week, saying:
“Houses serve as powerful metaphors of refuge and claustrophobia, and the novel chronicles both the strength of domestic bonds and the wounds that parents and children, husbands and wives, inflict on each other.”
And here too by coincidence Henning Mankell's new book is reviewed just above mine, which pleases me no end because I am a huge fan of Mankell's crime fiction.

For those who can get past the New Yorker paywall for the complete review, the link to it is here.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Rain, reviews, restfulness

Soft, grey, rainy morning in the hills. My dog has decided there is no place more sensible than a duvet. Her nose emerges every now and then like a radar to figure out if her staff (ie us) is at hard work in the catering department. Then she buries herself again.

A review of Atlas, meanwhile, in a Cleveland paper:  "Roy's writing is nuanced and luminous, never hurried, leading the reader through the lush Bengali landscape and into the hidden terrain of desire and loss". Read the complete review here.

The Folded Earth was reviewed too, in Outlook. "Roy joins Allan Sealy, whose elegiac The Everest Hotel also asks: is the way of life in colonial hill stations falling apart as they grapple with inept modernity?... As with An Atlas of Impossible Longing, Roy unravels the small-town terrain with certitude. At one level, her prose is a dirge for the Kumaon hills. At another, a Pickwickian humour infuses it with robust charm."
What is on the work table right now though is book covers: I design book covers for our independent press, Permanent Black. Here is the latest, for a brilliant autobiography of a Buddhist scholar.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Arundhati Roy's second novel... and other Atlas stories

The first US reviews of An Atlas of Impossible Longing are just coming in from the blogs. In a review to return to for comfort on the bad days, Brenda Youngerman writes:
"...without a doubt the best book I have read in the past six months! It is the kind of book that stays with you throughout the day. The kind of book that resonates within your mind as you think, feel, breathe, do your daily chores. The kind of book that makes you stop and take notice of things around you that you would not otherwise stop and take notice of." Read the complete review here.
The Scarlet Letter, in a perceptive review, says: "The novel is filled with plots and subplots and points of view, all intertwining and forming, like the lines of Mukunda's palm, an atlas of impossible longing.  Desire is the driving force in the novel: desire for love, for escape, for money and success and for all sorts of unfulfilled dreams. At the center of the atlas is the family house in Songarh, crumbling and aging along with the family."
Booksandbrands said: "Anuradha Roy’s prose was absolutely beautiful. The descriptive passages were perfection-not too little as to be overly concise, nor so flowery that I felt I had to skim over sentences. In fact, I devoured every single word of this lovely story. Her characters were well-developed but in such a subtle way you didn’t even feel it happening. Roy was able to perfectly balance character and story to produce what was to me a near-perfect novel."
Better Read than Dead loved it too: "The best novel I have read this year  -- actually in a couple years.  Each section is great with just enough action and pacing to keep the story moving."
Release notes says: "This makes a wonderful rainy day read.  Curl up with a cup of tea, a blanket and get lost in India for the afternoon"

Cynthia, on Goodreads loves it, only she thinks it is Arundhati Roy's second novel:
"I read Arundhati’s first book, The God of Small Things, about 12 years ago, after I had heard her interviewed on the radio. It still remains as one of my favorite books. Now I am excited to read her again. She has a beautiful way with words. I recently found out that she was trained as an architect, which explains one of the reasons that I enjoyed An Atlas of Impossible Longing". 
I hope Arundhati Roy feels as complimented by that as I do.

Nothing is everyone's cup of tea of course. So although Susie Bookworm likes most of the book, she finds that "Mukunda is a hard character to sympathize with... I want to smack Mukunda upside the head to wake him up." There are others who wanted some particular strands of the story tied up to neater conclusions, or thought that it was too tragic.

You can sample more American blog reviews of the book here, and here, here, here, and here

Thursday, 7 April 2011


A review here from First City on The Folded Earth. This is an eccentric magazine in more ways than one: for one thing, it has pages and pages, usually very interesting pages too -- on books; second, it is agreed by most writers who are interviewed by the mag that their journalists are extremely good at what they do -- this is not as obvious a virtue as it might seem; it's still a magazine that is not available online; oddest of all, their journalists don't get bylines. Despite all of this, it's a great magazine, one that everyone in Delhi knows.

First City also ran an interview-based feature on The Folded Earth, which is here.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

BOOKS TO GROW WITH / Vogue, April 2011

My father was a field geologist and in my childhood, he was away half the year in remote places. The months he was home in Calcutta, rules and routine were jettisoned. There were cream rolls for dinner, concerts, and tram rides with no fixed destinations. And soon Abol Tabol, Sukumar Ray’s book of nonsense verse, was dug out and dusted off. We knew the poems backward, but our anticipation of Baba’s characteristic intonations made us giggle even before he started reading. That is my earliest, happiest memory of a book.

Especially when we are young, books give coherence to whatever emotions are tangled up inside us; years later, it can seem inexplicable why a particular book appeared a revelation. There are books I don’t return to now for the same reason that I don’t go back to certain places: I don’t want my memories altered.

Mostly what has stayed with me from things read long ago is poetry. At Presidency College, Calcutta, a friend opened my world to poets I had never encountered. We would rummage through piles of books at the chaotic pavement stalls on College Street, begging shopkeepers for instalment plans to buy them on, and this way I discovered Philip Larkin, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop. One of the books I always have on my desk now is by Anne Stevenson, whose ‘Correspondences, A Family History in Letters’, is a remarkable set of poems that builds up the narrative of a troubled family in jigsaw puzzle fashion through poem-letters written in different voices.

It was at Presidency too, that I understood how much I was missing by not reading in Bengali. It is my mother-tongue, but my school reading in places far away from Bengal was in English and Hindi, and crowded out all else. As a result, I read Bibhutibhushan Banerji’s Pather Panchali (Song of the Road) in translation the first time: it was a set text for my brother’s class and carved itself in stone in my eleven-year-old head. The need to know it in its original language made me start reading in Bengali again. A slim novel about siblings growing up in poverty in rural Bengal, it is so tragic it makes you cry, yet tender and true about the human capacity for joy in the grimmest circumstances.

During an undergraduate degree at Cambridge that entailed digesting one British writer per week, a copy of Chekhov’s novellas fell into my hands at a second-hand stall. It included his story, The Duel, which begins with a pitilessly accurate description of failed love and develops into a poignant, comic story. Until then I had known Chekhov as a playwright. The Duel demonstrated his genius for creating complete social universes and living people through the briefest flashes of unexpected, seemingly pointless detail that work together to reveal the depths of emotion and pain that exist in the unlikeliest of us.

In Delhi, after two numbing years of editorial plodding through dense scholarly manuscripts, the singer Sheila Dhar’s book landed on my desk, meteor-like. Raga n’ Josh, containing essays on her life in Hindustani music, is unmatched for its rich blend of observation, learning, and brilliant story-telling. We met as strangers — author and editor — and in a few months, my husband (also a publisher) and I were both under the spell of her great wit and intellect, and her infectious sense of fun.  She could turn dreary days into carnivals, stealing us on impulse from our desks for lunches at which she ate everything forbidden her, sang, mimicked, and planned future books. Dutifully, we scribbled deadlines and outlines into diaries, sustaining the pretence that these were working lunches.

Because it wasn’t really pretence. This is how books get made: in an alchemical process, through chance collisions of people, places, energies, thoughts, ideas. Many of those books make it to our shelves. A few make their homes within us.

Monday, 4 April 2011


The French edition of An Atlas of Impossible Longing, translated by Myriam Bellehigue, is published this week by Actes Sud. It has been picked by Livres Hebdo, the French equivalent of Publisher's Weekly, as one of its three best books for the month.

The happiest translation story for me is how Myriam Bellehigue became my French translator. We have been close friends ever since we found ourselves living on the same staircase at university in Britain. She now teaches English literature at the Sorbonne, working mainly on American poetry -- Elizabeth Bishop was the subject of her PhD. When she read the first draft of An Atlas of Impossible Longing she made detailed suggestions for improving it and also said she wanted to translate it if that opportunity ever came up. At that time, with the novel being turned down by more or less every publisher, a translation of it seemed a remote possibility and we drowned our sorrows in her dark coffee.

The French rights for the book were bought by Actes Sud. And although publishers are extremely wary of trying out new translators, they gave her a trial. When they read her work, they knew -- as I always sensed -- that she would be an absolutely brilliant translator for the book. 

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Whatever the Question... Love is the Answer

Everyone knows that the line between fiction and fact can be a floaty, dissolving, elusive one, and to prove that you only have to walk around Ranikhet, where The Folded Earth is set. A set of photographs uploaded by MacLehose Press today shows bits and pieces of Ranikhet that will be familiar to anyone who has read the book or ever been there -- or to any other tiny hill station such as Lansdowne, Kasauli, or Dalhousie, as the Indian Express review by Dilip Bobb comments today:

 "Apart from capturing the sights, sounds and character of a hill station — Ranikhet in this case — she also uses the eccentricities of the locals to fashion a tale of great beauty and depth. What makes the setting more authentic is that she writes in familiar characters like Kipling and Corbett, Edwina Mountbatten and Nehru, into the plot to combine echoes of the Raj with heartbreak and nostalgia, love and loss. The tale delights as much for the allure of the writing as for its very hill-like twists and turns."