April 30, 2011
“The story of how I came to find and read Anuradha Roy’s beautiful novel, An Atlas of Impossible Longing, is not as long as the distance I went to find it. In Delhi en route to a literature festival in Jaipur this past January, I stumbled totally by chance into a reception honoring British publisher Christopher MacLehose. His hosts, Rukun Advani and Anuradha Roy, run a terrific independent academic press, Permanent Black. Talking about the role of academic publishers in India, then how a clearly significant press composed of two people, doing everything, managed to function: that was my introduction to Anuradha Roy.
I shortly learned— not terribly directly —that she had written a novel, one published in India and numerous other countries. Notes were made, and when I was in Faqir Chand and Sons’ legendary bookshop the next day, a Picador India edition of An Atlas of Impossible Longing was miraculously (to my eye) produced from the shelves of the most unfathomably organized bookshop I think I’ve ever seen.
An Atlas of Impossible Longing itself was more than fathomable even though it carries considerable mystery at its heart. Set over a span of years in early 20th-century Bengal, it tells of people brought together and then wrenched apart by circumstances historical, cultural and natural, all at once. Betrayals, secrets, chance, human greed and machination all play a big part, but a deep-set current of longing, keeping some indescribable purpose, ineffable and alive over time, no matter what waylaying occurs, makes it a particularly memorable, resonant book. It’s one of those rare books where time, rhythm, breathing change as one reads. You truly enter the book, the book inhabits you.
It’s also one of the most assured novels I’ve read in some time, never mind that it’s a debut. Every character, every setting, shift of scene, situation—rings true.
Upon return to the US after India, I found myself in that nowhere-land of having this amazing, transporting book to recommend, but no easy way to put it in others’ hands. Elliott Bay imported several from the UK, selling them briskly. Everyone who got it came back, saying how wonderful it was, wanting to buy additional copies to give to others. Getting ready to place reorders overseas, we received the welcome news that Free Press would be publishing An Atlas of Impossible Longing
in spring 2011.”—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company
, Seattle, WA