From the Man Booker Prize-nominated author of Sleeping on Jupiter and “one of India’s greatest living authors” (O, The Oprah Magazine), a poignant and sweeping novel set in India during World War II and the present day about a son’s quest to uncover the truth about his mother.
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.
So begins the “gracefully wrought” (Kirkus Reviews) story of Myshkin and his mother, Gayatri, who rebels against tradition to 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 and 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.
Evocative and moving, “this mesmerizing exploration of the darker consequences of freedom, love, and loyalty is an astonishing display of Roy’s literary prowess” (Publishers Weekly).
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.