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All the Lives We Never Lived, by Anuradha Roy.

July 17, 2018

All the Lives We Never Lived
All the Lives We Never Lived, by Anuradha Roy.  Atria Books, 2018.

4 stars

An historical novel about young boy and his mismatched parents whose lives are changed by two actual historical figures, art lovers who visit India and Bali in the 1930s and 1940.

Anuradha Roy is an Indian woman who has published several well-received novels based in her home country.  Her relatives knew some of the characters in this book and other significant Indian Leaders. She is not Arundhati Roy, a more famous woman author/activist from India.

The narrative in All the Lives We Never Lived is structured around a retired horticulturist who has returned to the small town in India where he grew up. Myshkin is a reclusive, dreamy man who had spent his life being invisible.  In retirement, memories of his childhood engage him.  His father was a rigid idealist,devoted to political austerity who expects everyone else to live up to his demands.  His mother was an artist, a flamboyant, deeply emotional woman, encouraged by her own father to be open and curious.  When he was nine, Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete, who were collectors of various types of “native” arts, visited his sleepy town.  When they left, his mother left with them.  She settles in Bali and becomes a painter. Myshkin was shattered and confused.  World War II errupts in India and Bali, leaving much unresolved.  As the book progresses, Myshkin relives what his mother’s disappearance meant to him.

My experience with this book is an example of why I continue to write reviews.  As I read it, I was not impressed.  In fact was bored by details that seemed to have little meaning.  Afterward, I was pushed to figure out what had happened in the book. Even the title took on significance.  Reviewing forces me to think about what I have read.  This book rewarded me for having made the effort.

I recommend this book for readers who are willing to think about what a novel can say about dreams and losses, and memories.

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