All the Lives We Never Lived


The JCB Prize (shortlist)
The DSC Prize (longlist; shortlist TBA)
The Hindu Literary Award (shortlist)

War, nationalism, and trees shape lives in unforeseeable ways in this novel about a family and a country struggling with enormous transformations.

‘In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman’ – so begins the story of Myshkin and his mother, Gayatri, who is driven to rebel against tradition and follow her artist’s instinct for freedom.

Freedom of a different kind is in the air across India. The fight against British rule is reaching a critical turn. The Nazis have come to power in Germany. At this point of crisis, two strangers arrive in Gayatri’s town, opening up to her the vision of other possible lives.

What took Myshkin’s mother from India to Dutch-held Bali in the 1930s, ripping a knife through his comfortingly familiar universe? Excavating the roots of the world in which he was abandoned, Myshkin comes to understand the connections between the anguish at home and a war-torn universe overtaken by patriotism.

Anuradha Roy’s deeply moving novel tells the story of men and women trapped in a dangerous era uncannily similar to the present. Its scale is matched by its power as a parable for our times.


1. English (INDIA): Hachette
2. English (UK): Maclehose Press/ Quercus
3. English (USA): Atria/ Simon & Schuster
4. English (SRI LANKA): Perera-Hussein
5. Romanian: Humanitas
6. Russian: Azbooka-Atticus
7. German: Random House BTB
8. French: Actes Sud

From the Reviews:

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

 "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"
David Patrikarakos in Spectator

"a writer of great subtlety and intelligence...a beautifully written and compelling story of how families fall apart and of what remains in the aftermath"
Kamila Shamsie, Guardian

"An astonishing new novel... A writer of extreme brilliance, humanity and grace"
Chigozie Obioma

"An extraordinary writer with many gifts"
Tishani Doshi, Hindu

"This questioning and subtle book, which ranges through freedom, nationalism and ecology, but is really a meditation on history itself. ... The scope of All the Lives We Never Lived is vast but also personal, both in temporal and geographical terms. It manages to retain a closely observed and restrained tone without omitting all of the outside factors that shape a person"
Sean Hewitt, Irish Times

"a novel that comes but rarely in our day and in its appeal and yet Indian at its heart, there is never a dull moment ... a once-in-a-lifetime novel"
Saket Suman, Business Standard/ IANS

"Haunting, elegiac... with elements of the fantastical yet believable sense of magic realism that permeates the finest Indian literature from Salman Rushdie through to Vikram Chandra"
John Walshe, Sunday Business Post

“. . . moving and brilliant . . . In the way that only fiction can do, Anuradha Roy’s thoughtful, eloquent and beautifully wrought novel allows us to feel the pulse of human actors whose lives and choices constitute an alternative to political history, yet prove that the personal is also the political” Supriya Chaudhuri, Biblio

"At its heart, All the Lives We Never Lived discusses complex emotions such as war, nationalism, freedom, love, abandonment, loneliness and nostalgia, with Anuradha Roy unveiling each of these with the expertise of a surgeon ... The world that rewards men for their public actions and forgives them their private cruelties, placing national politics above gender politics, is one that Roy slices through in her prose, though always obliquely"
Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

"Roy populates her fictional world with intriguing, broken, vulnerable characters and chooses to write about them — their unfulfilled desires and their collective yearning for the lives they could not live — with meticulous precision and sharp objectivity. The world created by her is ravaged by broken hearts more devastatingly than any war could or did" Ishita Sengupta, Indian Express

"From Sleeping on Jupiter to this book, Roy seems to be bettering her own brilliance. Though the narration is effortless, Roy’s research and imagination in recreating a bygone era shines out. This is an excellent, unputdownable book" Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Hindu

"A devastating story of love and loss...a brilliant book about human relationships, and a particular time in the history of India woven together in a book of blinding perception and compassion for the human condition"
Jennifer Crocker, Cape Times

"The prose is flawless and touching... this is a story about loss and longing and it is a story very finely told"
Sandipan Deb, Mail Today

"Roy’s writing is full of nuance – there is nothing didactic about the way she tackles the grand themes that pit the personal against the political . . . complex characters are conveyed in simple prose. She shows the tragic fallout of the decisions they make while not detracting from their humanity"
Salil Tripathi in South China Morning Post

"reinvents the idea and act of freedom during the colonial struggle for independence"
Jessica Xalcxo, ShethePeople

"Affecting tale of flawed characters and the constraints they struggle against - and amid the atmospheric historical detailing, there are pin-sharp modern resonances with modern India's nationalism and punishing patriarchy"
Siobhan Murphy, The Times

"Anuradha Roy has crafted the perfect novel on one woman’s search for freedom... [she] is a novelist at the peak of her prowess, and in this novel there is little she does wrong"
Devapriya Roy in Open

"A love letter to writing and storytelling, set in the landscape of personal memory and public, political history"
Sana Goyal, Scroll

"a brilliantly crafted novel ... that piques the reader's interest with every turn of the page"
Pooja Salvi, DNA

"The novel then is a sharp critique of such a worldview which stifles its art and artists. It makes the readers go through several emotions as they proceed reading the story. It makes them introspect about their own lives and that is what makes the novel and its characters quite relatable. It definitely deserves a place in your bookshelves, not to read once and gather dust, but to pick it up again once in a while and revisit the stories of these artists" Shweta Duseja, Pioneer

"The ways in which war and nationalism and all the big things impact so tragically on individual lives and how that is as much a part of history is amazingly told – from the life of Walter Spies to the fate of Muntazir ... This is actually a book that all historians who have an interest in history should read. Also novelists in order to just learn how to weave historical figures and real incidents into novels without losing the story" Nayanjot Lahiri, historian, author of Ashoka

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