“This is why we read fiction at all” raves the Washington Post: Family life meets historical romance in this critically acclaimed, “gorgeous, sweeping novel” (Ms Magazine) about two people who find each other when abandoned by everyone else, marking the signal American debut of an award-winning writer who richly deserves her international acclaim.
On the outskirts of a small town in Bengal, a family lives in solitude in their vast new house. Here, lives intertwine and unravel. A widower struggles with his love for an unmarried cousin. Bakul, a motherless daughter, runs wild with Mukunda, an orphan of unknown caste adopted by the family. Confined in a room at the top of the house, a matriarch goes slowly mad; her husband searches for its cause as he shapes and reshapes his garden. As Mukunda and Bakul grow, their intense closeness matures into something else, and Mukunda is banished to Calcutta. He prospers in the turbulent years after Partition, but his thoughts stay with his home, with Bakul, with all that he has lost—and he knows that he must return.
Roy's impressive American debut covers multiple generations of an Indian family from the turn of the 20th century to India's partition. Three distinct sections revolve around Amulya, who runs an herbal medicine and fragrance business; his mentally ill wife, Kananbala, who spies on the goings-on of her English neighbors from the room Amulya keeps her locked in; their sons, Kamal and Nirmal; their wives; Nirmal's daughter Bakul, whose mother died in childbirth; and finally Mukunda, an orphan that Amulya helps support, at which point Nirmal brings Mukunda home as a companion for Bakul. Tales weave backward and forward, and characters wallow in their longings, occasionally taking action; Mukunda and Bakul form a lasting bond that doesn't change with their circumstances. The book unfolds in third person until the final section, when Mukunda steps in as narrator to provide a welcome personal perspective on years of events. Roy is especially good at sensory description, making the sounds, smells, and feel of Bengal come vividly to life. Cultures may differ, but longing and love are universal.
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I loved this book. It broke my heart but made me laugh as well. It made me want to visit India again, but even more so was just a wonderful piece of literature. My rating is really 4.5 but can't do that here.