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All the Lives We Never Lived

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“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 “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. This enthralling novel tells a tragic 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.


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“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 “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. This enthralling novel tells a tragic 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.

30 review for All the Lives We Never Lived

  1. 3 out of 5

    Angela M

    3.5 stars Once in a while, I’m left struggling to understand how I feel about a book I’ve just read. This was one of those books. The story itself is full of struggles both personal and political. There are a number of things I liked about it, but yet something was missing that I find difficult to pinpoint. The writing in particular struck me from the beginning, beautiful prose and wonderfully reflective of emotion. I find that I enjoy first person narratives ( except in biographical novels) . 3.5 stars Once in a while, I’m left struggling to understand how I feel about a book I’ve just read. This was one of those books. The story itself is full of struggles both personal and political. There are a number of things I liked about it, but yet something was missing that I find difficult to pinpoint. The writing in particular struck me from the beginning, beautiful prose and wonderfully reflective of emotion. I find that I enjoy first person narratives ( except in biographical novels) . It always feels so much more intimate and I felt this way about Myshkin’s narrative. He is nine years old when his mother abandons him; nine years old when he heard the argument between his parents and his mother says that part of the world stopped when he was born. Now in his sixties, he has been struggling his whole life to come to terms with being abandoned by her. I found him to be such a sympathetic character, a lonely man, so impacted by what happened to him as a child, a man who has taken refuge in his work as a horticulturist. I was glad for him that he had Dada, his grandfather and my favorite character. Gayatri, his mother struggles with her passion for her art - painting and dance, struggling in a marriage and a culture and a time where women’s freedoms are held at bay. We become privy to her viewpoint, later in the novel when Myshkin opens a package of letters that were sent to her best friend, Lisa, who leaves instructions to her family that upon her death, these letters be forwarded to Myshkin. I enjoy epistolary narratives because I find those to be intimate and telling. I felt for her in some way, appreciating her love of her work and recognizing that she suffered in her marriage, yet it was very difficult to accept what she does, in light of what it did to her child. I couldn’t get interested in what she was doing in spite of her connections with characters based on real people. The shift in the narrative from Myshkin to his mother’s letters felt sort of abrupt. It’s years later when he reads them and I wished in some way that he had read these earlier in his life. There are political struggles reflected here as well- India and Britain, WWII. The letters do give a perspective on the war and his father’s involvement in the country’s politics provide some insight into what was going in in India in the 1930’s. I didn’t really know of India’s participation in it. We also know about the war through the impact it has on people that Myshkin knows. So a mixed bag for me . Liked it but didn’t love it. This was a monthly read with Diane and Esil and one that we didn’t like equally. I always enjoy it when we agree, but when we don’t, the discussion is so interesting. You should read their reviews. This ARC was provided by Atria the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    One's sense of identity and the interior and exterior forces that help shape the person we become. Our narrator for most of the book is Myshkin, now a horticulturist, looking back on his life, the personal and the changes in his country. We learn of his mother's early life in 1930 India, and her how her childhood shaped the person she became. How her leaving when he was only nine, changed his perception and the course of his life. His father, a difficult man who makes a decision that also effect One's sense of identity and the interior and exterior forces that help shape the person we become. Our narrator for most of the book is Myshkin, now a horticulturist, looking back on his life, the personal and the changes in his country. We learn of his mother's early life in 1930 India, and her how her childhood shaped the person she became. How her leaving when he was only nine, changed his perception and the course of his life. His father, a difficult man who makes a decision that also effects him, but provides him with a you g girl who would become his friend. A look at small town India, those who fight against colonization, and later a look at WWII and India's involvement. Much is covered here, the writing is very good, but it is a risk when including real historic characters such as Walter Spies, with the fictional story. Sometimes there is something lacking in the blending of the two. The tale of three stories. The first part of this book which I suppose was the background, the setup of the story, I felt went on too long. Found it sometimes boring, a struggle to continue on, and had this not been mine, Angela's and Esils monthly read, would have been tempted to set it aside. Then the second third, more the story of Myshkin, his father and his dada, who was by far my favorite character, pulled me into the story. I enjoyed this part, reading his thoughts, seeing how the family was enduring, reading about the outside forces that were brought inside. Then the third part, which was a series of letters that he opens at his current age, letters that attempt to fill in the gap of he and his mother's life. Although these were the most informative, pointing to the abuse of pridoners during the war, his different countries fared during this time, much broader look at the history, I found moving away from the personal not quite what I expected. So for me this was three separate stories that did not in my mind gel quite seamlessly. The emotional connection for me was lost, and I missed it. Other readers will feel differently I'm sure, the three of us sometimes agreed, and sometimes did not. We did, however, recognize that the prose was excellent. ARC from Edelweiss.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Alan

    This novel has beautifully written sentences and images, but the story itself is impossible to get into because it keeps going off on tangents that don’t move the plot forward. It's about Myshkin coming to terms with his artistic mother rebelling against what Indian culture at that time in history deemed acceptable for women--she ran off with a German artist, leaving Myshkin and his father to fend for themselves in a time of war. Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this novel, whic This novel has beautifully written sentences and images, but the story itself is impossible to get into because it keeps going off on tangents that don’t move the plot forward. It's about Myshkin coming to terms with his artistic mother rebelling against what Indian culture at that time in history deemed acceptable for women--she ran off with a German artist, leaving Myshkin and his father to fend for themselves in a time of war. Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this novel, which RELEASES NOVEMBER 20, 2018.

  4. 3 out of 5

    Seemita

    Letters. Those intimate little bits of paper and ink that hold many worlds, some known and some hidden. A best friend who takes all our secrets and refrains from being judgemental. Also, an enemy who slays every icy vein and renders us defenceless. A lap that cradles at night to keep our insomnia at bay. Also, a gust that denudes our pretences and tramps on our breathing. Of many dimensions and flights – of success and euphoria, of defeat and grief, of desire and melancholy, of murder and regret Letters. Those intimate little bits of paper and ink that hold many worlds, some known and some hidden. A best friend who takes all our secrets and refrains from being judgemental. Also, an enemy who slays every icy vein and renders us defenceless. A lap that cradles at night to keep our insomnia at bay. Also, a gust that denudes our pretences and tramps on our breathing. Of many dimensions and flights – of success and euphoria, of defeat and grief, of desire and melancholy, of murder and regret, of timidity and guilt, of opportunities and lost chances – are letters. And they emerge as the only thread binding a mother and her son, separated not just by miles but times too. The novel opens in India’s pre-independence era, when the freedom movement is gathering steam and towards its many patriotic bellows, are thronging the intent and purposes of young men and women. Nek Chand Rozario is one amongst them. Considerably liberal but uptight in certain principles, he shall do his bit when the nation's call comes. But his feisty, free-spirited young wife, Gayatri has her heart set on something completely different – art. Despite the road of freedom she has been allowed by her husband, her soul yearns to abandon it for the sea. And it does, one day, when the Germans, Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete, come visiting the couple. The painter Spies spots his kin in Gayatri and eventually, turns into the rescue boat riding on whom Gayatri leaves her home for good to pursue her dream. Soon after, Nek Chand too, renounces his routine and marches out to answer the nationalistic fervour. And thus, her only regret, becomes the biggest casualty – Myshkin. A boy, all of 9, abandoned. Fast forward half-a-century. When the quiet horticulturist, Myshkin, who has lived his life in the hazy blanket of his mother’s memories, suddenly receives a bunch of letters from her, several wounds come undone and his life veins are sluiced in love and regret, pain and peace. In Anuradha Roy’s compelling work, the pendulum sweeps all the way from the 1920s to the 1970s, and in its throes remain captive, Gayatri and Myskhin, like little fossils who have a story of their own even when they are no longer vocal or valid in this world. The juxtaposition of political currents (in British-India and Nazi-Germany) and individual agencies is deftly done, with the masterful amalgamation of fictional and real personalities imparting additional glitz. But what really reaches home is the prose – its lightness, akin to a dream that powers direction and action. Practically no one is driving the story; it is simply going on. Much like life. And the letters which continue to regale with the vignettes of journeys taken, and missed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rakhi Dalal

    The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin The only constant in life is change; the phenomenon that drives those wheels which move our life forward. Though being shaped by our own decisions or choices, the trajectory is difficult to ascertain. For, being a part of an ephemeral (also chaotic) world, much that we go through or are faced with, is also influenced by our circumstances, largely the familial ties and t The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin The only constant in life is change; the phenomenon that drives those wheels which move our life forward. Though being shaped by our own decisions or choices, the trajectory is difficult to ascertain. For, being a part of an ephemeral (also chaotic) world, much that we go through or are faced with, is also influenced by our circumstances, largely the familial ties and the socio-political environment we inhabit. Now this also means that not much in life is certain.We may go to bed making plans for next morning or for the distant future and the very next moment may unfold events which turn our life upside down. This uncertainty, however intolerable, perpetually holds life and perhaps also at times, dictates our perspectives - making us plunge, without reconsideration, into things unforeseeable and unknown. What if this plunge leaves us aching – for things we left behind, for that which we always took for granted instead of feeling ecstatic with happiness even if what followed was much better? What if it makes us pine for all that life could be, for all the lives we could have lived but never did? Roy’s novel takes us onto a journey encompassing the lives of a mother and her son, separated by uncertain turn of events but united in their wistfulness for times they could have lived together. Gayatri Rozario is an Indian woman, a mother (in the late 1930’s) who leaves her family and her only son because her creative and independent soul feels stifled in her marriage - a scandalous affair in pre independent India which leaves her son confused rather than angry. Though he doesn’t understand why his mother doesn’t take him along as she said but even the passage of time is not able to diminish her absent presence in his life. Gayatri feeds on the pursuit of arts and pleasure rather than embracing the fervour of nationalism by engaging in struggle for independence.She has a mind of her own and feels smothered by the expectations of her abstemious husband Nek Chand who believes that it’s only worthwhile to engage in such higher pursuits like fighting for freedom. In carving out Nek Chand’s character, Roy skilfully shows the conflicting nature of a highly educated liberal Professor of a college who has little regard for the personal interests of women in his life and who thinks the place of women (if it is not for ‘higher pursuits’) is within the confines of her household. So when Gayatri, who once dreamt of going to Shanti Niketan to learn arts, is visited by Walter Spies, whom she had once met in Bali on a trip purposely planned by her father, she becomes desperate to get rid of the shackles her marriage had imposed upon her. Gayatri’s departure followed by that of her husband Nek Chand and then his subsequent return with a wife, has a bearing upon nine year old Myshkin who feels her absence acutely. It is somewhat conciliated by the letters he receive from her where she tells him about her new life and how she wants him to be with her sooner. But as he grows older and begins understanding his father and other things around him like the Indian struggle for independence, he accepts her absence. It is only when he , much later in life, gets hold of a packet of letters written by his mother to her friend Lisa, that he comes to know more about his mother, about the events which unfolded between the times when his mother reached Bali till its occupation by the Japanese during WWII. These letters further emphasize how difficult it is to determine the outcome of one’s actions when one is living in uncertain times. Nothing happened as Gayatri had planned out or as her son had thought. It can only be said with certainty that she was at peace with herself while indulging in painting. Roy’s incredible writing style is augmented with her ability to create realistic characters within an ambitious framework also dealing with history, historical facts and real artists. She deftly portrays the plight of her characters facing as difficult times as freedom struggle and WWII spanning across India and Bali. In fact, it is the uncertainty of times that loom largely over the lives of her characters, directing their actions and deciding their fates. Depiction of artists like Rabindranath Tagore, Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete not only help us understand the artistic prospects of those times but also Gayatri’s character better. I loved how real life events associated with these artists were incorporated with fiction to create a convincing storyline. The narrative is exquisite and mesmerizes the reader throughout the length of the novel. It is so riveting that I did not find even a single dull moment while reading it. The author’s writing style, attention to detail and ability to churn out credible characters reminded me of V.S.Naipaul. The book was also shortlisted for JCB prize for literature this year. To end this review with my favourite quote from this novel: For as long as they are alive, trees remain where they are. This is one of life’s few certainties. The roots of trees go deep and take many directions; we cannot foresee their subterranean spread any more than we can predict how a child will grow. Beneath the earth, trees live their secret lives, at times going deeper into the ground than up into the sky, entwined below with other trees which appear in no way connected above the ground. Had we been trees – my father, my mother, Brijen, Lisa, Dinu, my grandfather and I – which direction, I wonder in idle moments, would our roots have taken below the earth?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    I've read all of Roy's four novels (the first one, 'An Atlas of Impossible Longing', twice), and was surprised (but kind of delighted) to find this most reminiscent of that debut work, rather than 'The Folded Earth' or her Booker-nominated 'Sleeping on Jupiter'. Regardless, it is always a sublime pleasure to read her luminous and luxurious prose, and am hoping that this year's Booker committee again sees fit to place her on the longlist, at the very least. The story is told in memory, from the p I've read all of Roy's four novels (the first one, 'An Atlas of Impossible Longing', twice), and was surprised (but kind of delighted) to find this most reminiscent of that debut work, rather than 'The Folded Earth' or her Booker-nominated 'Sleeping on Jupiter'. Regardless, it is always a sublime pleasure to read her luminous and luxurious prose, and am hoping that this year's Booker committee again sees fit to place her on the longlist, at the very least. The story is told in memory, from the perspective of a sixty-something horticulturist, nicknamed Myshkin after the Dostoevsky character, looking back on his formative years, and the sudden disappearance of his mother in the late '30s. In some ways, it seems that this is rather a slight thread to hang an entire 330 page novel on, but the book deepens and broadens out as one goes along, and becomes increasingly relevant when the encroaching fascism of Nazi Germany rears its ugly head (... providing an all too chilling echo of our own times). The last third of the book becomes an epistolary novel, consisting primarily of letters written by the mother, Gayatri, depicting what drove her to leave her home and son in search of both intellectual and artistic freedom, and although I had some problems with how lapidary those letters prove to be, Roy's skill makes you accept them as something that Gayatri could conceivably have written. And she 'sticks the ending' beautifully. A book I am sure I will eventually re-read (especially if it does make that Booker list), and it will probably make my top 5 books of the year list also. PS: Kudos for how beautifully bound the book is, and for that gorgeous cover illustration.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Esil

    All the Lives We Never Lived was not perfect, but there’s something about it that really drew me in. The story is set in India, moving between the 1930’s and the 1980’s. The narrator, Myshkin, is in his 60’s, and looking back on his childhood. His mother left the family when Myshkin was 9 years old. Later in life, having received a package containing letters written by his mother in the first few years after her departure, Myshkin tries to make sense of this time in his life. As the backdrop to All the Lives We Never Lived was not perfect, but there’s something about it that really drew me in. The story is set in India, moving between the 1930’s and the 1980’s. The narrator, Myshkin, is in his 60’s, and looking back on his childhood. His mother left the family when Myshkin was 9 years old. Later in life, having received a package containing letters written by his mother in the first few years after her departure, Myshkin tries to make sense of this time in his life. As the backdrop to Myshkin’s family crisis, WWII was raging and India was marching toward independence from British rule. I loved the writing which was descriptive without being overwrought. I loved the historical setting, which allowed me to learn about a part of Indian history. And I loved Myshkin’s character and perspective — the abandoned awkward child as much as the contemplative adult. There were holes in the story, which at times were a bit frustrating. But, to me, this was a minor flaw — I really enjoyed this one. It felt original and potent. This was a monthly read with Angela and Diane, and while we didn’t agree on this one, it was enjoyable as always. Thanks also to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Anuradha Roy’s new novel, “All the Lives We Never Lived,” is once again filled with impossible longing. The plot is a silhouette in words, an anguished delineation of the shadow cast by a woman’s absence. “In my childhood,” the narrator begins, “I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman.” Though many decades have passed, the pain and shame of that abandonment still feel fresh. “My mother had torn herself up and scattered her shreds in the breeze when I was nine. Ever sin Anuradha Roy’s new novel, “All the Lives We Never Lived,” is once again filled with impossible longing. The plot is a silhouette in words, an anguished delineation of the shadow cast by a woman’s absence. “In my childhood,” the narrator begins, “I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman.” Though many decades have passed, the pain and shame of that abandonment still feel fresh. “My mother had torn herself up and scattered her shreds in the breeze when I was nine. Ever since, I have scoured everything I read, see, hear, for traces of her.” Fans of Michael Ondaatje’s recent novel, “Warlight,” will appreciate Roy’s similarly sensitive exploration of a child’s mingled confusion, resentment and hope. Her narrator, nicknamed Myshkin, confesses to a life sapped by his mother’s disappearance. He has avoided friends and lovers, and he still lives in the house where he was unhappily raised. Wary of being hurt so badly again, he dedicated himself to the more reliable companionship of plants and trees. “They ask only that you are regularly, consistently, caring and watchful,” Myshkin says. “I was.” The story develops along two intermingled paths. On one, Myshkin re-creates. . . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Will

    I can easily see this novel ending up as one of my favorite books of the year. It is the 2nd book in a row that I have given 5 stars, the 1st being Tim Winton’s The Shepard’s Hut. Roy’s novel joins Winton’s in being one I would be happy to see on the Booker longlist (which, as I write this, is only 23 days away). I can only hope such a winning reading streak continues for me. So…I am tempted to leave it at that and allow future readers to discover the beauty of this novel on their own. For some I can easily see this novel ending up as one of my favorite books of the year. It is the 2nd book in a row that I have given 5 stars, the 1st being Tim Winton’s The Shepard’s Hut. Roy’s novel joins Winton’s in being one I would be happy to see on the Booker longlist (which, as I write this, is only 23 days away). I can only hope such a winning reading streak continues for me. So…I am tempted to leave it at that and allow future readers to discover the beauty of this novel on their own. For some reason I’m finding this novel to be one that is difficult to review for fear of spoiling its many mysteries and pleasures. I know I could add a spoiler alert, but that isn’t my style. I’ll give it a try - In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman. Since this is the opening line of the novel, I think I can safely tell you that the narrator, now a man in his 60’s, is looking back at his childhood and attempting to understand why his mother abandoned him, piecing together the events that brought about that abandonment. This abandonment is the force behind the novel’s major theme - a look at how the suppression of a woman’s freedom, her interests and artistry, can lead to an action that negatively impacts many lives for years. This is the main theme and story, yes, but the novel is not that simple. It explores other political themes of personal liberty as well. Set primarily in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, against the backdrop of the rise of Nazi Germany, World War II and the beginnings of India’s fight for independence, there is much in this novel concerning freedom and these events play a significant role in the characters' lives. Gayatri, the runaway mother, writes in a letter to a friend: How it tears its way in by its fingernails - I mean politics - & shreds your life to pieces. That really hit me. Roy’s depiction of a creeping Fascism is frightening and certainly relevant to right now. It is uncanny how she conjures disturbing images that are mirrored in our current daily news cycle. Historical people pop up in the novel. Some, such as the German painter Walter Spies, play a significant role in the lives of the fictional characters. Ignorance on my part, perhaps, but I was not familiar with Spies or several of the others that appear. If you are like me and like to google the pictures of the real-life people while reading, I would strongly advise, for this novel, not to read their biographies if their lives are unknown to you. Hope I haven’t slipped and given too much away. I also hope that this novel finds many readers. A big recommendation from me. The writing is gorgeous - a beautiful, heartbreaking story told with great intelligence, control and restraint.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    "It is the year 1937 that I feel on my skin." from All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy As a toddler, Myshin suffered from convulsions, which led his grandfather to nickname him after the character in Dostoevsky's The Idiot. The nickname stuck, even after the fits stopped--much to the boy's chagrin. "Innocents are what make humankind human," his grandfather explained. In 1937 Myshkin's mother warned him to come straight home from school. Fatally, he was delayed. He never saw his mother aga "It is the year 1937 that I feel on my skin." from All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy As a toddler, Myshin suffered from convulsions, which led his grandfather to nickname him after the character in Dostoevsky's The Idiot. The nickname stuck, even after the fits stopped--much to the boy's chagrin. "Innocents are what make humankind human," his grandfather explained. In 1937 Myshkin's mother warned him to come straight home from school. Fatally, he was delayed. He never saw his mother again. She ran off with Walter Spies, a man who left his German homeland, an artist who had mentored her in her girlhood when traveling the world with her liberal-minded father. His father is absorbed in his political work and spiritual quest. Suffering so much loss in his life, Myshkin had turned to the things that make roots and last: trees. He became a horticulturist. He had planted a grove of flowering trees to add shade and beauty. Now the city wants to tear them down. Does anything last in this world? Myshkin is in his sixties when a package arrives from his mother's best friend. The contents send Myshkin on a journey into his past. The novel is Myshkin's record, his way of coming to terms with his past. Set in 1937 through WWII, in India and the Dutch East Indies, the setting is unfamiliar and exotic. The human story is universal: The life-long hollowness of a man whose childhood recurrent fear of abandonment became real. How the conflict between private life and the work of political revolution split a family. Myshkin's father, an academic, was active in the Indian Independence Movement, an idealist who could not understand his wife's joy in painting and dance. The motives, and costs, behind a young woman's breaking free of the constraints of her husband's expectations. The fear that incarcerated non-hostile aliens during wartime. I was moved by Myshkin's story. The intensity picks up when we learn the contents of the package, letters from his mother to her friend. From the personal suffering of a child, the novel turns to her tragic story. Roy's research into the time period and the historical persons who appear in the novel bring to life a time few Americans know about. I am thrilled to have read it. I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Fidan Lurin

    All the Lives We Never Lived is a stunning achievement of Anuradha Roy, being his fourth novel. It is a beautiful overlapping history that explores love, secrecy and the definition of family. This book, about halfway through began to remind me of Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch in the way that the story of a mother who is really only briefly actually present in either of the books is told by their sons, sick with longing ofr their presence and their maternal love. All the Lives We Never Lived is a All the Lives We Never Lived is a stunning achievement of Anuradha Roy, being his fourth novel. It is a beautiful overlapping history that explores love, secrecy and the definition of family. This book, about halfway through began to remind me of Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch in the way that the story of a mother who is really only briefly actually present in either of the books is told by their sons, sick with longing ofr their presence and their maternal love. All the Lives We Never Lived is a beautiful work of literary prose told by the memory of Myshkin, nicknamed after one of Dostoevsky’s characters. Now in his mid sixties this horticulturalist looks back upon his youth and the betrayal he felt when his mother left him for an Englishman. Attempting to understand the reasons for his sudden abandonment, the reader is swooped into a long history of the narrator’s childhood growing up in India. We meet a long chain of family members and friends, all the while being immersed in a war torn country under an strong patriotic influence with the innocent falling under the hand of the powerful. Woven beneath a narrative of sadness and familial conflict is also a tale of suppression of women in a country where voice only has one gender. Set in the 1930’s and early 1940’s the reader is met with the ugliness of the rise of World War II and India’s tumultuous fight for independence. Freedom, one of the main themes in the book, is delved into in multiple respects. Freedom for women from men, freedom from a powerful and corrupt system of oppression, and even freedom, as we see with the narrator, from one’s own backward looking thoughts. Myschkin’s mother, Gavarti, is a strong willed character. Her voice and desires are not tolerated in her culture where she is expected to marry young, give up on her ambitions and remained housed in a world of acquiescence to men and their desires. Her strong will and refusal to be silenced leads to her, as well as many others’ sufferings in the story. Growing up, she was taken all over the world, alongside her father to discover new peoples, new cultures, new ideas of what “life” meant to people outside of her own country. It’s sort of reminiscent of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt in that the narrator is a man in his mid-sixties looking back on his life. However, he is not really telling his story but rather the story of the mother that left him when he was 6 or 7 years old. He tells the stories of his mother, a rebellious and tough-spirited woman who’s adventurous soul was to be tamed at the death of her father when she was young and then sent to marry a man 16 years her senior. It is definitely not a flowing and “as it happens” narrative. Instead, each chapter or segment tells the story of one of Myshkin’s (the narrator) family members such as his great grandfather or his mother’s father. About fifty pages in we are introduced to a German by the name of Walter Spies who had known Gayatri (Myshkin’s mother) and her father and had taught them many things about his culture. He comes to India in search of her and, eventually, this is the man Gayatri will leave her family behind for in pursuit of the long lost spirit she had left behind with the death of her father. It does not become completely clear why Gayatri decides to abandon her family until about 200 pages into the novel. Through letters Gayatari draws a portrait of the intellectual and spiritual freedom that she longs for and only has the opportunity of ever finding if she leave. Her suffering is raw and deep with an ending that left me torn between forgiving her or thinking her selfish for leaving behind a family that still loved her. The writing style is really dense with description and flowery language so it does take a bit of concentration to absorb so I found myself having to reread a few sentences here and there. With that being said, I did feel absorbed in each of the characters and found the transition from one story to the next beautifully done. I also think this book is especially a good pick for these later months as the holidays are coming because the family theme and the importance of values is very prevalent. Usually around fall and winter readers are looking for that “cozy” that leaves them warm inside, but still with enough drama to keep them reading, and I think this book (at least so far) does just that! All the Lives We Never lived is a breathtaking story of a child’s abandonment by his mother and the motives that drew her to leave behind the comfort of stability on a quest for freedom in a war torn country where women are not only expected to be caged but also brought up to be caged willingly. This is one of those books that is sure to linger with me, having left me questioning humanity: what really does it take to cage a person ? Love? Hatred? Both?

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Shepherd

    "I need nobody else. I am contented and complete with my animals in a way I never have been with human beings. People think of my solitude as an eccentricity or a symptom of failure, as if I am closer to animals and trees because human beings betrayed me or because I found nobody to love. It is hard to explain to them that the shade of a tree I planted years ago or the feverish intensity of a dog fruitlessly chasing a butterfly provides what no human companionship can." This isn't a particularly "I need nobody else. I am contented and complete with my animals in a way I never have been with human beings. People think of my solitude as an eccentricity or a symptom of failure, as if I am closer to animals and trees because human beings betrayed me or because I found nobody to love. It is hard to explain to them that the shade of a tree I planted years ago or the feverish intensity of a dog fruitlessly chasing a butterfly provides what no human companionship can." This isn't a particularly happy story. Myshkin Rozario is a boy growing up in a world where his father is emotionally detached, his mother is physically distant, and his homeland of India is on the precipice of World War II. This could have potentially been an immensely depressing read, but it wasn't. Anuradha Roy's prose really brings the natural beauty of India (and later Bali) to life, and her style fleshes-out her characters in such a way that you can't help but feel varying levels of understanding and empathy. If you feel you're living in a dangerous era and you're seeking a respite through fanciful fiction, this is not your book. But if you think you're up for a gritty Indian excursion laced with hope and history and heartbreak, I highly recommend giving it a go.

  13. 4 out of 5

    ns510

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 3.5 stars. “In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman.” Vacillated between 3.5 to 4 stars. It was a solid 4 stars as I was reading it - lovely prose, thoughtful and almost philosophical writing - but I didn’t particularly seek it when I had put it down, and now that it’s been some time since I’ve finished it, I find it hasn’t lingered in my mind as long as I thought it might. To be fair, I’ve been a bit busy and perhaps didn’t have as much brain space or e 3.5 stars. “In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman.” Vacillated between 3.5 to 4 stars. It was a solid 4 stars as I was reading it - lovely prose, thoughtful and almost philosophical writing - but I didn’t particularly seek it when I had put it down, and now that it’s been some time since I’ve finished it, I find it hasn’t lingered in my mind as long as I thought it might. To be fair, I’ve been a bit busy and perhaps didn’t have as much brain space or emotional availability for this at the time. Still, it kept me engrossed enough to read to the end. An accomplished story told from the perspective of Myshkin, an older man reminiscing on his youth, oblivious to the realities of 1930s India, pre-independence and pre-wartime. At the age of ten, his mother Gayatri leaves him, an event that upends his world, just as India, and the world itself gradually begins to upend itself through instability and the looming threat of war. Gayatri is a woman before her time, as was her father, and when he dies, she ends up married to a man who fancies himself her rescuer, a lecturer and an activist fighting for the county’s freedom, while being an oppressor at home. Then she has Myshkin, and it seemed she felt even more stifled. “As an old man trying to understand my past, I am making myself read of others like her, I am trying to view my mother somewhat impersonally, as a rebel who might be admired by some, an artist with a vocation so intense she chose it over family and home. As a child abandoned without explanation, I had felt nothing but rage, misery, confusion.” This is the story about reckoning with your past, shaping it to suit you, and making peace with the life that you then choose to live. It highlights how no one is left unscathed in times of turmoil, be it on a personal level or on a global scale such as in wartime (“I suppose when countries are at war, our lives are not our own any more even if the war is a million miles away.”). Yet, art and creativity can be a source of beauty, a balm, no matter the circumstance, even as it may be seen to be frivolous by others. I found it to be a unique story as I was reading it, thinking wow what made the author want to write a story based across borders like this. India and Bali? I really didn’t know too much about this period in India’s history. But then by the end, I realised that the foreigners that had arrived in India to seek out Gayatri were based on actual historical figures (Walter Spies, Beryl de Zoete...), and that there were a few other fictionalised versions of real historical artists besides (Rabindranath Tagore, Begum Akhtar). That was a pleasure to learn and then read up about, but I was also glad to not have known about them prior to reading this. I don’t think it would have made too much of a difference if I had either. By the end of the book, we get more of a perspective on the woman Gayatri was. This is again at a distance, via letters she had sent her best friend. This feels poetic, since Myshkin has lost the opportunity to truly know her himself (though personally, I wouldn’t mind a break from epistolary plot devices!).

  14. 5 out of 5

    Avishek Bhattacharjee

    কোথাও আমার হারিয়ে যাওয়ার নেই মানা... I can only remember this song while writing a short review of this exceptional piece of art.Recently I have read Chinatown which was like an epic and now "All the lives we never lived".The best part of this book is the overlap of history and fiction.The content of a tormented tortured nation, world war, love story , ruins and remnants of war, famous personalities evokes a sense of peculiar attachment with the read. Anuradha Roy's immaculate research , vivid de কোথাও আমার হারিয়ে যাওয়ার নেই মানা... I can only remember this song while writing a short review of this exceptional piece of art.Recently I have read Chinatown which was like an epic and now "All the lives we never lived".The best part of this book is the overlap of history and fiction.The content of a tormented tortured nation, world war, love story , ruins and remnants of war, famous personalities evokes a sense of peculiar attachment with the read. Anuradha Roy's immaculate research , vivid description of the locales of our country and Bali with the nature binding prose is very similar to poetry. I always feel creating characters for any novel is a humongous task and when a reader can relate to those characters, with their flaws and mistakes, with their happiness and hatred, that palpable sense of loss and longings; there lies the success of an author. This novel has much to offer. Readers will get a glimpse of deep sense of human emotions, bonding , principles at the utmost torrid times; freedom from a woman's perspective and the story of a boy who has lost everything. The story of Myshkin and his mother Gayatri, its rebellious, alluring artist-heroine who is driven to abandon home ,marriage and follow her primal instinct for freedom. What follows is Gayatri's life as pieced together by her son( a semi-epistolary touch makes it more intriguing), a never ending journey and a hope of reunion and love. So as Sumana Roy has mentioned at the back cover of this novel- 'If you've ever lost something, you must read this novel.If you've ever found something you lost, you must read this novel too.'

  15. 5 out of 5

    Campbell

    This one isn't doing it for me, so I'll pass. Next, please.

  16. 3 out of 5

    Hansda Shekhar

    This novel is quite an achievement. There is history, there are cameos by famous people from the past, there is a love story, there is a family drama, there is a search, there are also current affairs and environmental issues, and all of it in an engrossing, moving, tear-jerking read. The action takes place in India and Bali, the canvas is huge, and Anuradha Roy keeps it all in place as she seems to surpass her own excellence. I totally loved "All The Lives We Never Lived". (This is a somewhat ex This novel is quite an achievement. There is history, there are cameos by famous people from the past, there is a love story, there is a family drama, there is a search, there are also current affairs and environmental issues, and all of it in an engrossing, moving, tear-jerking read. The action takes place in India and Bali, the canvas is huge, and Anuradha Roy keeps it all in place as she seems to surpass her own excellence. I totally loved "All The Lives We Never Lived". (This is a somewhat expanded version of my review on Amazon Kindle. I read the Kindle version of the Indian edition published by Hachette India in May 2018.) 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. Here is my review published in The Hindu Literary Review on Sunday, 27-May-2018: http://www.thehindu.com/books/an-ode-...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Manreet Someshwar

    All The Lives We Never Lived, Anuradha Roy’s fourth novel, published by Hachette India, is the story of an elderly man, with the unusual name of Myshkin Rozario, looking back upon his life as he attempts to piece together the jigsaw of his mother’s abrupt disappearance when he was a child. The narrative is set amidst the turmoil of 1930s pre-independent India when freedom struggle is ratcheting up. Obviously, Gandhi lingers in the background, as do the Nazis and Hitler, while Rabindranath Tagore All The Lives We Never Lived, Anuradha Roy’s fourth novel, published by Hachette India, is the story of an elderly man, with the unusual name of Myshkin Rozario, looking back upon his life as he attempts to piece together the jigsaw of his mother’s abrupt disappearance when he was a child. The narrative is set amidst the turmoil of 1930s pre-independent India when freedom struggle is ratcheting up. Obviously, Gandhi lingers in the background, as do the Nazis and Hitler, while Rabindranath Tagore makes a cameo as Rabi Babu. This novel has Roy’s trademark features that have won her previous books critical acclaim and commercial success: lyrical lucid prose, fully realized characters, a flawed female protagonist, sensuous evocation of a bygone era, a quiet examination of the myriad fissures of India. From its arresting opening — “In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman. The man was in fact German, but in small-town India in those days, all white foreigners were largely thought of as British” — the narrative sweeps you along. Gayatri Rozario, young, beautiful, gifted, troubled, is taken under the wing by the enigmatic Beryl de Zoete who is traveling the world writing on dance. Her companion, Walter Spies, is a German who has fled Germany, horrified by war and the Nazis, and turned to naturalism in the bounty of lush Bali. Why did his mother abandon her home and her child and flee to Dutch-ruled Bali with Beryl and Spies? This question drives Myshkin and the narrative, which is an extended meditation on the idea of freedom and how it can mean different things for different people: a nation, a woman, a non-native. Nek Rozario, Myshkin’s father, occupied with the struggle for India’s freedom, cannot fathom why his wife would not model herself more on Mukti Devi, local leader of the movement. The mismatched couple are years apart, Gayatri having been married off at eighteen when her loving father died suddenly. His mother departs, his father is jailed, and Myshkin is brought up by Dada, his doctor grandfather in the company of Liza McNally, a family friend who feeds him cakes. Myshkin grows up to be a horticulturist, confounding the expectations of his father who believes a newly-independent India requires engineers, not gardeners. Two-thirds in, the narrative becomes epistolary when Myshkin receives a bundle of letters written by his mother and we start to glean her reasons for leaving. At a languid pace, we learn of Gayatri’s life in Bali, her budding career as a painter, the buildup of tension due to war, the confinement of Walter Spies in British-allied and Dutch-ruled Bali, Gayatri’s attempts to stay afloat as the paradise around her collapses… At its heart, All The Lives We Never Lived is an examination of the roles that define and constrain an individual, tempered as these roles are by the expectations of others. If Gayatri had never left, how different would Myshkin’s life be? If Gayatri was more the type of wife and woman Nek desired? If Nek was less of a political dabbler? If the war had not interceded? Set in a small town called Muntazir, literally “to wait,” the novel evokes a bygone era, when a Mr Ishikawa, a Ms McNally, a Brijen Chacha were neighbors, not others, and India was cosmopolitan in spirit, the shrill demands of nationalism still at bay. P.S. I read the book's ARC and interviewed the author for Punch magazine. You can read it here: http://thepunchmagazine.com/the-bywor...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Karla Strand

    I had heard a lot of buzz about this book and it did not disappoint. The prose is lyrical, lovely, and detailed. The character development is full and rich, as is the plot. This is a book I would read again in order to get all of the nuances the author clearly intends. I appreciated how Roy was able to take on the myriad of voices she includes, as well as the varying time frames. With themes including sex roles and gender equality, child abandonment, independence, war, and love, this story is va I had heard a lot of buzz about this book and it did not disappoint. The prose is lyrical, lovely, and detailed. The character development is full and rich, as is the plot. This is a book I would read again in order to get all of the nuances the author clearly intends. I appreciated how Roy was able to take on the myriad of voices she includes, as well as the varying time frames. With themes including sex roles and gender equality, child abandonment, independence, war, and love, this story is vast and yet somehow delicate and intimate. An excellent read for anyone who enjoys literary fiction, women writers, international writers, and books that transcend time and place for universal appeal.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tommi

    Review to come later.

  20. 3 out of 5

    Anupama C K(b0rn_2_read)

    Though I could understand Gayathri, it was hard to forgive for leaving Myshkin behind

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sahil Pradhan

    Here is a novel that could so easily have been loud. It is set among large events: the fight for Indian independence and the second world war. It features characters from history who enter the lives of the novel’s fictional characters, often to dramatic effect – the poet Rabindranath Tagore, the singer Begum Akhtar, the dancer and critic Beryl de Zoete and the German painter and curator Walter Spies. It has at its heart a young boy whose mother leaves him to live in another country, and whose fa Here is a novel that could so easily have been loud. It is set among large events: the fight for Indian independence and the second world war. It features characters from history who enter the lives of the novel’s fictional characters, often to dramatic effect – the poet Rabindranath Tagore, the singer Begum Akhtar, the dancer and critic Beryl de Zoete and the German painter and curator Walter Spies. It has at its heart a young boy whose mother leaves him to live in another country, and whose father responds to this crisis by also leaving the child for an extended period of time, and who is later imprisoned for his anti-British activism. There are many reasons to turn up the volume dial. But readers of Anuradha Roy, whose previous novel Sleeping on Jupiter was longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker prize, know that shoutiness or showiness is never her style. She is a writer of great subtlety and intelligence, who understands that emotional power comes from the steady accretion of detail. Amid all the great events and characters of history, she chooses as her narrator a horticulturalist known throughout by his nickname, Myshkin – “a man who chose neither pen nor sword but a trowel”. A compelling story of a woman who rebels against tradition for her artistic 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 for her the vision of other possible lives. So what was it exactly that took Myshkin's mother from India to Dutch-held Bali in the 1930s? Excavating the roots of the world in which he was abandoned, Myshkin comes to understand the connections between anguish at home and a war-torn universe overtaken by nationalism. This beautiful novel, set in the Southeast Asia of the 1930s, evokes beautiful imagery of places and landscapes. It does its work quietly and with great subtlety, but it is a novel of big ideas. At the core of All the Lives We Never Lived is a woman who chooses her art over family & her individual freedom above the country’s independence. Amidst this drama her son, Myshkin looks back on his mother’s leaving as the defining trauma of his life. A dazzling, moving new novel by the internationally celebrated author of Sleeping on Jupiter. All The Lives We Never Lived takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent and around the colonial globe–from the cramped neighborhoods of pre-colonial India and the roads of the war-stricken Germany and even Dutch captured Bali and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war. It is an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a story told in a whisper, in a shout, through unsentimental tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Each of its characters is indelible, tenderly rendered. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love–and by hope. As this ravishing, deeply humane novel braids these lives together, it reinvents what a novel can do and can be. All the Lives we Never Lived demonstrates on every page the miracle of Anuradha Roy’s storytelling gifts. A gem a great tempest of a novel: a remarkable creation, a story both intimate and international, swelling with comedy and outrage, a tale that cradles the world's most fragile people even while it assaults brutal villains. All The Lives is a thoroughly absorbing work of art a hybrid of satire, romance, thriller, and history. It speaks to the universal struggle of artistic people to be free. Here is writing that swirls so hypnotically it doesn’t t feel like words on paper so much as ink on water. This vast novel will leave you awed by the heat of its anger and the depth of its compassion. All The Lives is the follow-up we’ve been longing for a poetic, densely populated contemporary novel in the tradition of Dickens and Tolstoy. Anuradha Roy’s new novel gives us a cast of unforgettable characters, caught up in the tide of history, each in search of a place of safety. It is at once a love story and a provocation, an emotional embrace and a decisive demonstration. It is told in a whisper, with a shout, with tears, and with a laugh. Its heroes, both present and departed, human as well as animal, have been broken by the world we live in and then mended by love. And for this reason, they will never surrender. All The Lives We Never Lived tells a shattered story, magnificently, without ever trying to make it whole. The scope of the book, its peerless prose, and unique, formal inventiveness make this novel new, in the original meaning of the novel. Moving. . . powerful…The kind of book that makes you feel like you’ve lived several times over. It contains so much of everything: anguish and joy and love and war and death and life, so much of being human. All The Lives rips open the world to show us everything that is dazzlingly beautiful and brutally ugly about it…Roy centers the vulnerable and the unseen, making clear that love is the only way for individuals to really meet across the borders of skin or country. Everything is alive in All The Lives, from emotions to people to the country itself. It is this aliveness of every human as well as every animal and thing that makes this novel so remarkable. All The Lives is the ultimate love letter to the richness and complexity of India—and the world—in all its hurly-burly, glorious, and threatened heterogeneity. Roy is a treasure of India and of the world. All the Lives We Never Lived is a beautiful work of literary prose told by the memory of Myshkin, nicknamed after one of Dostoevsky’s characters. Now in his mid sixties this horticulturalist looks back upon his youth and the betrayal he felt when his mother left him for an Englishman. Attempting to understand the reasons for his sudden abandonment, the reader is swooped into a long history of the narrator’s childhood growing up in India. We meet a long chain of family members and friends, all the while being immersed in a war torn country under an strong patriotic influence with the innocent falling under the hand of the powerful. Woven beneath a narrative of sadness and familial conflict is also a tale of suppression of women in a country where voice only has one gender. Set in the 1930’s and early 1940’s the reader is met with the ugliness of the rise of World War II and India’s tumultuous fight for independence. Freedom, one of the main themes in the book, is delved into in multiple respects. Freedom for women from men, freedom from a powerful and corrupt system of oppression, and even freedom, as we see with the narrator, from one’s own backward looking thoughts. For a book so politically placed, the narration is much strong and intense, almost that when you are through the book you see your body hair to rise. All the Lives We Never lived is a breathtaking story of a child’s abandonment by his mother and the motives that drew her to leave behind the comfort of stability on a quest for freedom in a war-torn country where women are not only expected to be caged but also brought up to be caged willingly. This is one of those books that is sure to linger with me, having left me questioning humanity: what really does it take to cage a person? Love? Hatred? Both? And what it answers to the world is the theme of "Self Exploration of a Mother", for as Myshkin never knew what her mother was from inside and what drove her away from his father, he never tried to explore her, only when she was lost to him and suffered by the pangs of separation that he explores his mother, the only being whom we love a lot but never do explore. Part of Roy’s skill as a writer is shown in her ability to reveal the awful consequences of Gayatri’s choices while retaining great compassion for those choices. This novel is not interested in condemning absent mothers. By contrast, Roy is refreshingly unimpressed by the anti-imperial activities of Myshkin’s father – who seeks freedom from being ruled while behaving like a tyrant in his own home. 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. From this starting point, Roy’s narration intermingles fact and fiction, history with fantasy, to superb effect. The young Myshkin watches Axis prisoners of war pass through his hometown of Muntazir on a train — and is aghast. ‘We were accustomed to Indians being skeletal and diseased,’ he observes. ‘But white men were born never to resemble them.’ It’s the ‘were born never to’ that does the heavy lifting here — the essence of colonialism captured in one throwaway clause. But this is no leaden anti-colonial polemic — Roy is too subtle a writer for that. Myshkin’s staid and obstinate father is not a sympathetic figure: devoting himself to the cause of wider independence while neglecting his familial duties. 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 realized 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. All the Lives We Never Lived is set largely in the early part of the 20th century, with some sections in the 1990s. It does not directly refer to #MeToo or the macho hyper-nationalism of today’s India. But in its portrayal of power structures, it is part of those very contemporary political conversations. It is also a beautifully written and compelling story of how families fall apart and of what remains in the aftermath.

  22. 3 out of 5

    Cynthia

    I know I probably should have enjoyed this book but I struggled with it! It took me well over 100 pages to “get into it”. I had trouble understanding the characters and their choices, especially the mother in this book. The writing is well done but this book wasn’t for me.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Vanya

    All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy is a narrative set in colonial India that traces the life of Gayatri as she deserts her marriage and her son, Myshkin, in search of artistic freedom. Married off to her father’s student immediately after his death, Gayatri feels stifled with Nek Chand, whose name itself is revelatory, symbolising his fervour for the greater cause of the struggle for Indian independence. Living an austere life, Nek Chand is condescending towards his family for harbourin All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy is a narrative set in colonial India that traces the life of Gayatri as she deserts her marriage and her son, Myshkin, in search of artistic freedom. Married off to her father’s student immediately after his death, Gayatri feels stifled with Nek Chand, whose name itself is revelatory, symbolising his fervour for the greater cause of the struggle for Indian independence. Living an austere life, Nek Chand is condescending towards his family for harbouring seemingly frivolous passions and interests. The reality, however, is very different from the image he construes of himself as we find out that his own father calls him a mere “dabbler” and rightly so. His facade of being a modern man is easy to see through and collapses the moment we are told that he is fine with Gayatri’s indulgence in creative pursuits as long as she treats them as hobbies and not as a serious vocation. Roy’s focus remains on the nine year old Myshkin and how loneliness and early trauma shape not only his childhood but also his later years. It is his experience of being abandoned as a child that precludes him from having normal, healthy relationships as he grows up feeling more affinity towards plants and trees than he does towards other humans. The letters that his mom sends him from Bali, where she pursues her lifelong dream of being an artist succoured by Walter Skies, the eminent German painter who hates his country’s bigotry, and Beryl de Zoete, the outgoing dancer, are the only source of comfort in his forlorn life. The personal and the political are weaved together in the story as Gayatri’s efforts to free herself from a suffocating marriage are juxtaposed with the freedom fighters’ relentless attempts to gain freedom. Roy brings together so many aspects in this wonderfully rich and layered novel that it’s impossible to talk about all of them in here. I urge you to read this novel.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Eithne Murray

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Roy's book starts slowly and. inconsequentially. By the end she has created a work about familial relationships, politics, nationalism and its effect on the family, all within the framework of the Second World War. Thematically, it is partially reminiscent of Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, where the artist's will for self and familial expression is deemed unpatriotic by the System. Nek (NC) is reminiscent of Pasha, Lara's young husband, in that he is committed to the cause, and wishes his young Roy's book starts slowly and. inconsequentially. By the end she has created a work about familial relationships, politics, nationalism and its effect on the family, all within the framework of the Second World War. Thematically, it is partially reminiscent of Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, where the artist's will for self and familial expression is deemed unpatriotic by the System. Nek (NC) is reminiscent of Pasha, Lara's young husband, in that he is committed to the cause, and wishes his young wife to be more mindful of the political situation in her everyday life. However he lacks Pasha's zealotry. This may not be a far-fetched comparison, as the narrator's nickname is inspired by Dostoevsky Initially the reader is aware of Myshkin's melancholic sense of loss at the disappearance of his mother, soon followed by the temporary disappearance of his father for ascetic reasons. Neither parent elicits our sympathy. Toward the end of the novel there appears to be a shift in the narrator's thinking. He reads his mother's letters for the first time and he reads about her need for artistic impression. He recalls his father's dismissiveness at his choice of occupation - horticulture, a love that fills his life. He was so disparaged he failed to turn up at his father's funeral to 'perform the sacred duty of a son'. By the end he seems to have come to a sort of acceptance: We see him revelling in his ability to draw and paint plants. In the end it leaves the reader with the sense that he identifies now with his mother's artistic side, which in him is evident in his creation of landscapes which may take 40 years to mature. The title of the book underlines the haunting sense of loss of his mother, a life that has been circumscribed by 'What if'; What if he had made it home on time from school that day. The depiction of women and nationalism resonates with me this week in particular, as I have just attended a talk on suffragism in Ireland. It seems the republican ideal of the most influential politicians was to get the colonials out, with no thought given to the rights individuals might need. In the same way, Myshkin's father is depicted as being preoccupied with 'The Cause', which only comprised a change of government as opposed to changes of rights. This review is only skimming the surface of the book. It is a commentary on art, on values - both artistic and social; on othering of groups - culminating in arrests by the Dutch colonists. I'll remember this book for some time to come.

  25. 3 out of 5

    Bill Berger

    Wonderful novel set in the Raj about a young boy, his mother and their family’s dealing with politics, infidelity and his coming of age. Highly recommended

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sankalpita (bookGeeks India)

    Watch a detailed video review on my Youtube channel - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOjRq...

  27. 3 out of 5

    Val

    Myshkin's mother, Gayatri, leaves home when he is a boy. Many years later, elderly Myshkin looks back at his memories and reinterprets them. The personal history of the family is set against a wider historical context of India in the 1930s and '40s. Most of the book is set between the passing of The Government of India Act in 1935 and full independence in 1947, and includes the impact of the Second World War. The family relationships are central to the book, as experienced by young Myshkin and as Myshkin's mother, Gayatri, leaves home when he is a boy. Many years later, elderly Myshkin looks back at his memories and reinterprets them. The personal history of the family is set against a wider historical context of India in the 1930s and '40s. Most of the book is set between the passing of The Government of India Act in 1935 and full independence in 1947, and includes the impact of the Second World War. The family relationships are central to the book, as experienced by young Myshkin and as assessed by his older self. His father is a follower of Gandhi's austere but non-violent Satyagraha movement and regards Gayatri's art as nothing more than a hobby, while to her it is essential. He is not a cruel man (to her, although his treatment of his second wife is worse), but he cannot understand Gayatri or make her happy. History and geography are important to understanding the overall story, but they do not dwarf the human one. I was sorry not to see this novel on the Booker long list.

  28. 3 out of 5

    dpcinh

    Lovely lyrical work! I picked it up as the author lived in Ranikhet. This was a sleepy cantonment town in the sylvan Kumaon hills where I spent my childhood. Alas, it has now turned as congested and raucous as Paharganj. So where is the fictional Muntajar? It seems to be an amalgam of Haldwani, Raiwala, Kotdwar and Ramnagar. I enjoyed the sojourn of Myshkin's great-grandfather in Harsil. Plan to read other works of this brilliant talented author.

  29. 3 out of 5

    Subowal

    The narrator of the story is the curiously named Myshkin Rozario. The story, however, is more about Gayatri, Myshkin's mother, who left home when Myshkin was 9 years old. Myshkin grew up in the 1930s in a large sprawling old house with only his grandfather, parents and servants. The grandfather, fondly named Batty Rozario, is a doctor and a more relaxed person than his son Nek Chand, who is into the freedom movement and believes life is meaningful only in pursuit of higher purpose. This makes him The narrator of the story is the curiously named Myshkin Rozario. The story, however, is more about Gayatri, Myshkin's mother, who left home when Myshkin was 9 years old. Myshkin grew up in the 1930s in a large sprawling old house with only his grandfather, parents and servants. The grandfather, fondly named Batty Rozario, is a doctor and a more relaxed person than his son Nek Chand, who is into the freedom movement and believes life is meaningful only in pursuit of higher purpose. This makes him preachy and sententious, much to the dislike of his wife Gayatri who could have said, as attributed to Winston Churchill describing Stafford Cripps: "He has all the virtues I dislike, and none of the vices I admire." Gayatri grew up as the youngest child and the only daughter in a family where the youngest of her brothers is at least a decade older than her. Her father doted on her and saw to it that she got enough opportunities to develop the artistic side of her personality - even taking her on a ship to Bali so that she could be in the company of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore who was also on the same ship. Father died when she was still young and her brothers offloaded her onto Nek Chand when he came around - despite the age difference. What they didn't realize, or didn't bother about, was that she had an independence of spirit that would ill adjust to marriage with anyone, much less a moralist like Nek Chand. Gayatri feels caged in the house. Enter Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete - a German man and a British woman - who become friendly with the family, with the exception of Nek Chand, who barely tolerates them, but doesn't prevent his wife from mixing with them. They are both artistic and Gayatri gets along famously with both of them. A few months later she quits her home and husband with the two of them. She had plans of taking Myshkin with her, but that day he got late in returning from school and she couldn't wait. Myshkin grows with the opprobrium of her mother's scandal. On the surface his father bears the shock well, and allows him to correspond with his mother. His wife's desertion has, however, shaken up Nek Chand and shortly after the disappearance of his wife he leaves home on a journey to find the 'truth'. He returns without really finding it, but having acquired another wife and a step-daughter. The timeline of the book zigzags back and forth. The two major time periods are the thirties as the world moves into the second world war, and the eighties when Myshkin is sixty and looking back at his life. Most of the story is told through his writing, though there are parts of Gayatri's life narrated through her letters. The story is about how Gayatri and Myshkin cope with the aftermath of Gayatri's desertion. Gayatri feels guilty, she is often homesick, and she has plans to coming back to take Myshkin with her. Myshkin seems to carry the weight of the scandal without too much apparent damage - except for his failure to marry or get into a stable relationship. Anuradha Roy handles the story and the characters very well. She doesn't offer any defense for Gayatri, but we empathize with her. We don't really sympathize with Nek Chand. I learned from the author's afterword that Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete are real historical persons. Walter Spies's house in Aceh, Indonesia is a tourist attraction. Beryl de Zoete has written books on dances of South and East Asia. Overall, it has been a satisfying introduction to Anuradha Roy's work. Her other books have come on my reading list.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mira

    3.5 stars. “All the Lives We Never Lived” by Anuradha Roy is the tale of Myshkin, and his mother Gayatri, who runs away when Myshkin is 9 years old. Gayatri is trapped, a prisoner metaphorically speaking, in a life in which she does not belong, within the greater context of India and its people being trapped within the British Empire. The wheels are set in motion for the Second World War and the rise of Hitler, but all of those things seem far away for the moment. Will Myshkin ever come to terms 3.5 stars. “All the Lives We Never Lived” by Anuradha Roy is the tale of Myshkin, and his mother Gayatri, who runs away when Myshkin is 9 years old. Gayatri is trapped, a prisoner metaphorically speaking, in a life in which she does not belong, within the greater context of India and its people being trapped within the British Empire. The wheels are set in motion for the Second World War and the rise of Hitler, but all of those things seem far away for the moment. Will Myshkin ever come to terms with his mother’s disappearance and her truths? This novel is about freedom of different kinds. Gayatri struggles for a freedom that is not gifted to her by her husband, though she is particularly unconcerned with the Nationalist movement, much to her husband’s ire. She is trapped within his rules, his desires for the way she should be, and she strains against his dominance of their prescribed way of life. These freedoms clash because in joining the movement of the fight for Indian independence she must give up her own freedoms and live in a way that counters the very way she operates. Myshkin too, struggles with this in his own way. It’s also about how events occur and the nature of memories - Myshkin must come to terms with what his mother did - and understand it and process it in his own way: even all these years later. He must see her as she was and what drove her in order to understand her. The nature of memories is often non linear and fuzzy and sometimes we avoid the painful ones, and we see Myshkin muddle through this process over the course of the novel. Roy’s depiction of childhood memories and Myshkin’s imagination is rich and adds many layers and complexities to his character and to the story line. The story drags at points but ultimately becomes more interesting and draws you in. The characters are compelling and that makes up for the sometimes slower pace of the plot. There is something that Roy touches on: a characteristic or personality quirk that attaches much more meaning to the natural world and all things beyond human: a world beyond human ephemera. I’m sure many creative people and daydreamers (of which I am one) might identify with this - though I cannot quite articulate what this is. Overall I had higher expectations of this, after reading another one of her books: “Sleeping on Jupiter.” This novel does stand on its own but it definitely was not my favourite by her. I do want to read her earlier works for comparison though, and I will definitely share my thoughts on here.

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