[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.
All the Lives We Never Lived feels more like a rumination than a story. While it starts out promisingly enough, with a mysterious and exciting treasure box of information, as it speeds toward its inevitable end, Myshkin grows ever more steeped in regret and torpor. While we might want the memories of the past to shed light on the present, or even propel Myshkin toward the future, perhaps we are asking too much of them. Instead, Roy has given us a memory book, a narrative that lives and dies in that other country, the past, much as its protagonist has chosen to do.
...Anuradha is a writer of great subtlety and intelligence, who understands that emotional power comes from the steady accretion of detail ... All the Lives We Never Lived is set largely in the early part of the 20th century, with some sections in the 1990s. It does not directly refer to #MeToo or the macho hyper-nationalism of today’s India. But in its portrayal of power structures, it is part of those very contemporary political conversations. It is also a beautifully written and compelling story of how families fall apart and of what remains in the aftermath.
The power of this well-written novel grows as the story moves forward both historically and fictionally. Characters become increasingly likeable and worthy of our sympathetic response to their words and deeds.
... perceptive ... If the novel goes off on too many tangents, Roy is nonetheless a thoughtful writer who creates beguiling scenes, such as the emergence of women holding candles at nighttime, “a wavering line of fireflies,” as they sing a Muslim mourning chant. All the Lives We Never Lived is an affecting tale of loss, remarriage and rediscovery.
As All the Lives We Never Lived describes a mother’s efforts to create her own unconventional life in a restrictive society, the book’s content and tone reminded me of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. It also has a similar success weaving history into the lives of deeply rendered characters ... Gayatri’s freedom comes at a very steep personal price, but even as her life ends in illness and isolation, Roy’s novel doesn’t condemn her or her choices. This makes for a smart, powerful and ultimately illuminating book.
Gayatri Rozario is proof that we are the product of our circumstances. In 1930s India, she was forced into marriage because her family saw that as the only respectable choice for her. Unfortunately, matrimony stifled the young artist’s creative impulses. Up until then, Gayatri’s father had indulged her desire for education and shown her a glimpse of the wider world when he brought her on a tour of Bali. But Gayatri bottles up her potential after marrying until a visitor from the past, a German man, opens new possibilities for escape ... Roy peppers her novel with intricate descriptions of small-town India and weaves an eloquent and tragic story of straitjacketed lives upended when history and personal ambition intersect.
The scope of All the Lives We Never Lived is vast but also personal, both in temporal and geographical terms. It manages to retain a closely observed and restrained tone without omitting all of the outside factors that shape a person. Part of the joy of the novel is Myshkin’s narratorial strategy itself, a flowing, somewhat unreliable elegy, which challenges the certitudes of memory, history and nation. As Myshkin reflects, summarising in a way the fluid textures of Roy’s novel, and hinting at the ways in which Roy allows history to unsettle our closely held myths, 'Our memories come to us as images, feelings, glimpses, sometimes fleshed out, sometimes in outline. Time solidifies as well as dissolves.'
Roy’s new novel is more historical in scope...about endemic violence and child abuse in India, but it still deals in hard truths. It is narrated by Myshkin, a horticulturalist in his mid-sixties searching for insight as to why his free-spirited mother, Gayatri, abandoned him as a nine-year-old in 1937. Recently recovered letters she sent to a family friend from Bali, where she absconded with the real-life German composer Walter Spies, reveal her desperation to escape the oppressions of her married life in India. But she didn’t find paradise in Bali either: the Dutch East Indies were soon be embroiled in the Second World War ... Roy blends history and fiction throughout, binding her domestic drama to the political turmoil of its era. It is a mix that doesn’t always gel, but she writes elegantly and intelligently whatever the subject matter, be it love, patriarchy or sweltering landscapes.
...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.'
On the world stage, an immense nation struggles to liberate itself from a repressive colonial history; in an Indian town called Muntazir, a gifted young woman brought up by her father to love and explore the arts is also yearning for freedom, from the domineering behavior of an educated but controlling husband. Gayatri Rozario is the young, stifled wife, and it’s her son, Myshkin Chand Rozario, who narrates the events of 1937, the year in which his free-spirited mother abandoned the family home for a life of creativity, encouraged by a visiting German painter, Walter Spies ...Roy is a lyrical, subtle, finely observant writer, yet there’s a spark missing in this story, hitched as it is to the real-life figure of Spies, whose residence in Bali introduces other historical figures, then gives way to glimpses of ill treatment of prisoners as war engulfs the island ... A novel of history, both global and personal, gracefully wrought but self-consciously constructed.
The latest novel from Roy is a lush and lyrical fusion of history and storytelling ... a mesmerizing exploration of the darker consequences of freedom, love, and loyalty is an astonishing display of Roy’s literary prowess.
All the Lives We Never Lived is Roy’s fourth novel, coming a decade after her first..In this new book, Roy is grappling with bigger themes–freedom, nationalism and nature–against the turbulent backdrop of India’s fight for independence and World War II. Her mastery of detail ties an intimate domestic drama to national history, offering a portrait of one family’s troubles with desire and loss that speaks to the more universal struggles for personal and political freedom ... The reader is propelled through the pages, impatient to find out what happened to the grown man’s mother, to discover what her letters contain. Roy’s skillful blending–of fact and fiction, of personal and political, and of suspense and reward–creates a rich and layered read.