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An Atlas of Impossible Longing

An Atlas of Impossible Longing

A Novel

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“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.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451608625 | 
  • April 2011
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Read an Excerpt

ONE

In the warm glow of fires that lit the clearing at the centre of straw-roofed mud huts, palm-leaf cups of toddy flew from hand to hand. Men in loincloths and women in saris had begun to dance barefoot, kicking up dust. Smoke curled from cooking fires and tobacco. The drums, the monotonous twanging of a stringed instrument, and loud singing obliterated the sounds of the forest.

A man with a thin, frown-creviced face topped by dark hair combed back from his high forehead sat as still as a stone image in their midst, in a chair that still had its arms but had lost its backrest. His long nose struck out, arrow-like,... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for An Atlas of Impossible Longing includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

INTRODUCTION

Set in the outskirts of a small town in Bengal, in the mid-20th century, An Atlas of Impossible Longing is a multi-generational novel that weaves together a family’s story of romance, abandonment, forgiveness, and desire. Told in three powerful parts, the book explores what it means to live with the ghosts of the past, deal with an ever-changing present, and strive toward a blissful future that always seems just out of reach.

TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. “The silence that to Amulya meant repletion locked Kananbala within a bell jar she felt she could not prise open for air.” (p. 16) The move from busy Calcutta to secluded Songarh is life-changing for both Amulya and Kananbala, though in very different ways. Discuss how each is affected by the change.
  2. “He would look at [the plants] tenderly, wanting to stroke and pat them . . . He had created a garden where there had been wilderness” (p. 23). Describe Amulya's relationship to nature thro
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