Published November 2018 by Atria Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
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 story of Myshkin and his mother, Gayatri, a rebellious, alluring artist who abandons parenthood and marriage to follow her primal desire for freedom.
Though freedom may be stirring in the air of India, across the world the Nazis have risen to power in Germany. At this point of crisis, a German artist from Gayatri’s past seeks her out. His arrival ignites passions she has long been forced to suppress.
What follows is her life as pieced together by her son, a journey that takes him through India and Dutch‑held Bali. Excavating the roots of the world in which he was abandoned, he comes to understand his long‑lost mother, and the connections between strife at home and a war‑torn universe overtaken by patriotism.
You all know I've been struggling to make myself pick up a book and actually read the words. This poor book was the victim of that malaise. Which is a shame because this is just the kind of book I normally eat up voraciously. Story set in India? Check. Family story? Check. History? Check. Beautiful writing? Check. If I wasn't reading this from Netgalley, I might well have set it aside and saved it for a time when I was ready to curl up in a corner of the couch and settle into Myshkin's story.
It really is a lovely, moving story. With a father who is more wrapped in the politics of India than in his son and a mother who abandons them for another life, it's no wonder that Myshkin has grown into a sad, isolated man whose only real connections to the world are the plants he be charged with caring for all of the city and his stepsister. As the book opens, Myshkin has been sent a package from a friend of his mother's. Initially unable to open the package, Myshkin reflects back on his memories of his mother and her life. When he finally is able to open it, her life after she left comes pouring out. Even as my heart broke for her son, I couldn't help but wish for Gayatri to find what she was looking for after having been trapped for years in a life that wasn't meant for a curious, bright young woman.
As much as I loved the poetry of Roy's poetic writing and her story, I was just as impressed with her writings on politics and the arts.
"...she would see that the power and tyranny and cruelties of those civilizations did not survive, the rulers fell and their courtiers lay in parallel lines of narrow marble caskets next to their king, their cats and wives too, but the beauty that had been created remained. The filigree in the windows, the calligraphy on stone, the perfection of the dome she was struggling to draw. The creators of those things, the masons, sculptors, painters, who had no role to play in the great games of power, whose minds were thought inferior, whose opinions were of no consequence, whose wealth counted for nothing: their work remained after all else had vanished. When the world was in turmoil and devastation appeared inevitable, art was not an indulgence but a refuge, its fragments remained after a cycle had run its course from creation through to destruction and begun again. Power crumbles, people die, but beauty defeats time."If this book sounds like it's as right for you as it is for me, do yourself a favor and make sure you read it when you are ready to fall into Roy's world.