Author: Anuradha Roy
Publisher: Hachette India
Publishing Date: 14 May 2018
Country: India, Indonesia
“I am of a temperament that needs the written word. For anything to have meaning, it has to be set down, it must live on paper before it is fully alive in my head. It has to be a series of words in a sequence in order to reveal a meaning and pattern.”
I can easily say that Anuradha Roy’s All The Lives We Never Lived is one of my favorite books of 2018. For some reason I found it difficult to pen down this book review. Daunting, even. I guess I fear spoiling it’s myriad mysteries and pleasures and I feel every reader should explore this novel’s beauty on it’s own, without reading about it beforehand. So this won’t be your usual book review where I’ll be writing about what’s good and bad about the novel, but it will be different because I’ll be talking about what I experienced reading this tale.
What is it like to be abandoned by someone? Especially when that someone is your mother. The narrator of All The Lives We Never Lived is Myshkin, who is in his 60s. He is attempting to understand the reasons why his mother abandoned him. His only helpers are his mother’s letters and his memory. A lot of themes have been explored in this novel like liberty (personal and national), love, morality, human relationships and artistic expression but abandonment is the major force behind all these themes.
All The Lives We Never Lived is set in the late 1930s and early 1940s. This was a tumultuous period not only for India but also for the rest of the world. The Quit India movement was beginning and Nazism had raised it’s ugly head in Germany. The world was at war for the second time. These political events play a major role in the lives of Myshkin and his mother. I was surprised to know that there are a few historical cameos in All The Lives We Never Lived like the German painter Walter Spies and British Ballet dance Beryl de Zoite.
The writing is gorgeous and pulls you in. The overlap of history and fiction is the best part of this novel. All The Lives We Never Lived is about freedom, the ruins of war, misplaced ideologies and love. Anuradha Roy’s meticulous research and vivid descriptions of Northern India and Bali are almost poetic.
I could experience a deep sense of emotions while reading this novel. All The Lives We Never Lived is essentially a story of loss and freedom from a woman’s perspective and a story of a boy who has lost everything. As Sumana Roy has said,” If you have ever lost something, you must read this novel. If you’ve ever found something you lost, you must read this novel too.
Note: All The Lives We Never Lived has been shortlisted for the JCB Prize.