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All the Lives We Never Lived

The DSC Prize
The Hindu Literary Award

From the Reviews:

"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 

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

 "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"

"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"

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

"An extraordinary writer with many gifts"

"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"

"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

"...dramatically rearranged my sense of the world... scintillating and memorable new novel... distinguished by an imaginative capaciousness, an ability to engage with epic-scale turbulences, and a refusal to subordinate the specifities of individual lives to the impersonal grandeur of epic narratives or statistical realities. Roy weaves fiction and cultural history together, evoking a vanished 1930s world across a geographical swathe from the Himalayan foothills to Bali….We find our spectrum of affective tonalities expanded, our sense of the human subject in all its tragic frailty and desire amplified” Ranjit Hoskote, Biblio

"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"

"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

"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" Erica Pearson, Star Tribune

“. . . 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

"There is a joy and beauty in reading her, a polish and finesse that soothes the senses yet jolts them awake. It is easy to understand why her third novel, Sleeping on Jupiter, won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and was longlisted for the Man Booker. This is her fourth novel, and it is also marvelous to experience just how her command over language, her themes and references have morphed and expanded" Richa Bhattarai, Kathmandu Post

"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"

"You could say that ALL THE LIVES WE NEVER LIVED is about two struggles for independence, playing out against the backdrop of World War II: India’s battle against colonialism, and a woman’s against marital entrapment. Roy balances the political and the personal with skill and power, giving us a country and a family rocked by change, grief and passion. For me, reading her book was a true “passage to India.” Katherine B. Weissman, Book Reporter

"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"

"The prose is flawless and touching... this is a story about loss and longing and it is a story very finely told"

"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"

"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"

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

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

"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

(continued below the photographs) 

"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

"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)

"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

"Emotional and lyrical, [All The Lives We Never Lived] explores themes of family, identity, and regret."


"A powerful family story set in postwar India, about a mother who leaves her family to pursue her artistic passions, and a son who tries to understand her choice."
Entertaiment Weekly

"A sweeping new novel that will transport you to India during World War II and back again, as a son starts a journey to find out the truth about his mother, a rebellious artist who abandoned motherhood and her marriage to live a life of freedom. As he uncovers a series of gut-wrenching, uncomfortable, and emotional revelations, All the Lives We Never Lived proves time and time again that Roy is a master storyteller."
"The themes of freedom and revolution echo through the book as an older gentleman pieces together childhood memories of his artistic mother as he tries to understand why she abandoned him so many years ago. Set in the 1980s, his tale reaches back to India’s fomenting pre-revolutionary era that led up to World War II, and the insights and lessons ring just as true today."
Christian Science Monitor

"[A] perceptive new novel... [from] a thoughtful writer who creates beguiling scenes... An affecting tale of loss, remarriage and rediscovery."

"Roy, a Man Booker Prize nominated novelist, creates yet another brilliant family saga, set against the vivid background of her home country, India."
CBS' WATCH! Magazine
 "Set aside some time during the holidays to read this beautifully written novel about culture, identity, and family."
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: Luchterhand/ Random House BTB
8. French: Actes Sud
9. Chinese: Horizon
10. Large Print: Thorndike Press,USA 
11. Audio Book (Atria); read by Vikas Adam

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