cover image All the Lives We Never Lived

All the Lives We Never Lived

Anuradha Roy. Atria, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-9821-0051-3

The latest novel from Roy (Sleeping on Jupiter) is a lush and lyrical fusion of history and storytelling. Set in the late 1930s and early 1940s in the fictional Indian small town of Muntazir—amid India’s fight for independence from Britain and the breakout of WWII—legendary singer Begum Akhtar, dancer and critic Beryl de Zoete, and German painter Walter Spies all figure prominently in the tale of nine-year-old Myshkin, who’s abandoned by his free-spirited mother, Gayatri, and then largely ignored by his college professor and political activist father, Nek. When Myshkin, in his 60s after a career as a horticulturist, gets a package of letters his mother wrote during her self-imposed exile in Bali, it sets off his narration of Gayatri’s rebellious youth, her oppressive marriage to the strident and rules-bound Nek, her decision to leave “that monsoon day in 1937” with Spies and de Zoete—and Myshkin’s lifelong struggle to understand his mother’s radical choice. Myshkin believes Akhtar, whom his mother tends to when the star falls into one of her “spells of grief and suspicion,” may have inspired his mother’s own decision to run away and find “a different life.” “My mother knew when she left that she had poured petrol and set a match to every bridge between herself and her family,” Myshkin recalls. “After such desertion, what forgiveness?” This mesmerizing exploration of the darker consequences of freedom, love, and loyalty is an astonishing display of Roy’s literary prowess. (Nov.)