Looking back, less in anger, more in sorrow infused with gradual understanding, an Indian horticulturist recalls his abandonment by his mother as India’s fight for independence merged into World War II.
[Roy's] new novel, All the Lives We Never Lived, is once again filled with impossible longing ... Indeed, some of the novel’s most fascinating incidents involve his mother’s unlikely friendship with two real-life artists: the English dancer and scholar Beryl de Zoete (1879-1962) and the German painter and musician Walter Spies (1895-1942) ... Many readers may not be familiar with de Zoete and Spies, which makes Roy’s graceful reanimation of them even more enchanting ... All the Lives We Never Lived begins in such intimate, private pain, but as Myshkin’s sympathies expand, so does the novel’s scope. The result is a story that eventually encompasses the world far beyond a boy’s little town ... Even more captivating than the unexpected turns of this plot is the way [Roy] reaches into the depths of melancholy but never sinks into despair.
Anuradha Roy’s new novel, All the Lives We Never Lived, is replete with the author’s characteristic virtues: an unerring eye for meaningful detail, vividly sensual descriptions of place, the ability to dwell in uncertainty, a luminous empathy for outsiders, misfits, and anyone struggling with limitation, constraint, and oppression ... The letters [from Myshkin's mother]... feel like a narrative misfire. The epistolary form — faithfully reproduced in the text — necessarily leads to laborious repetition ... As the redundancies pile up, the novel’s mystery and magic get crowded out ... Even more problematic are numerous and lengthy excerpts from a novel by the real-life Bengali poet Maitreyi Devi about the life of a woman much like Gayatri (Roy herself translated it). Roy was clearly taken by the striking parallels to her own work, but we don’t need them; they distract rather than sonorously chime ... Despite its structural flaws and its gradual loss of emotional power, All The Lives We Never Lived’ is admirable, impressive, intelligent.
...Roy’s writing is surpassingly vivid and gorgeous ... Roy paints a keen and altogether modern sense of a woman who wasn’t meant for marriage, who wants only to immerse herself in art ... The letters have a galvanizing effect on the novel, turning it from an elegiac reminiscence into an explosive cry for freedom ... I do wish Gayatri’s voice had come sooner ... Once she appears, the book comes fully alive. You could say that All the Lives We Never Lived is about two struggles for independence, playing out against the backdrop of World War II: India’s battle against colonialism, and a woman’s against marital entrapment. Roy balances the political and the personal with skill and power, giving us a country and a family rocked by change, grief and passion. For me, reading her book was a true 'passage to India.'