24th Mar 2011
The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy
Anuradha Roy released her début novel An Atlas of Impossible Longing to widespread critical acclaim, and such was the magnitude of its success that it has consequently been translated into over ten languages.
Thus, I had high expectations for Roy’s second novel, The Folded Earth, which it easily meets.
Roy says that the inspiration for The Folded Earth came from a photograph of lake Roopkund where 500 skeletons were discovered in 1942, and it is from this disquieting picture that she has created a deeply unsettling but beautiful novel.
The narrative centres around Maya, the daughter of a pickling factory owner who eventually disowns her because she marries a Christian. Following the death of her beloved husband, Michael, Maya relocates to a remote Indian village where, as Roy eloquently puts it, predators still walk. She spends her time working at the school and typing up a manuscript about Jim Corbett on a typewriter with two of its letters missing.
In the first few pages of the book, Maya exclaims that her husband’s need to visit the mountains made her see that ‘some people have the mountains in them while some have the sea’.
It is this turn of phrase that is so utterly enrapturing and which really allows Roy to create a beautifully plaintive story filled with incredibly touching moments.
Her elegiac tone also means that Roy engages with longstanding debates, for instance the detachment of formal politics from the ‘real world’, the divisiveness of Hindu nationalism and the destruction of the environment, in a truly human and emotive way.
What also stands out is Roy’s interaction with colonialism. This colonialism that so transformed and ravaged India is depicted using enormous poetic skill. The Aspen Lodge, for instance, is a dilapidated cottage built deep in the forest by the British who were, says Roy, remembering Scotland.
The Folded Earth constantly grapples with grandiose themes almost effortlessly.
As always, Roy’s writing remains gently poignant and metaphoric throughout, every vignette and scenario she constructs feels multi-layered and deeply meaningful.
Other recommended reading: For even richer language, go read Zora Neale Hurston’s novels Their Eyes Were Watching God or Jonah’s Gourd Vine. V.S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street creates a story composed of several interlocking vignettes similar to The Folded Earth.