Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 10, 2012

The Folded Earth (2011), by Anuradha Roy

the folded earthOf all the books I have read from the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize longlist – and I have now read them all, with the exception of the impossible-including the difficult-to-source Rebirth – I enjoyed reading this one the most.  The Folded Earth is a superb novel.

Like others in the longlist it deals with significant issues – the impact of an uncertain future on small towns with traditional ways; the clash of competing religions and the spread of hatred; economic imperatives that dissolve links with family and home; and the wash-up of colonialism.  But like Tahmima Anam’s The Good Muslim it is first-and-foremost a story and one which grips the reader with intensity.  I started it late last night  – and I turned the last of its 257 pages this morning, interrupted only by the need for sleep.

The Folded Earth tells the story of Maya, a young woman who abandoned her family to marry outside her religion, and then lost her husband in tragic circumstances.  She builds a new life in the remote hill country deep in the Himalaya, spending her working hours as a not-very-competent teacher in a Roman Catholic convent and the time in between as a companion to an eccentric old scholar called Diwan Sahib and as friend to a former pupil, a wayward teenager called Charu.  The novel is peopled with a generous cast of intriguing individuals: Ama, Charu’s exasperated grandmother and Sanki-Puran, her addle-witted uncle; Miss Wilson the schoolmarm; Diwan Sahib’s drinking partner Mr Qureshi; and Mr Chauhan, a pompous bureaucrat.  These characters are deftly drawn, and their preoccupations are engaging.  Roy is a compelling story-teller indeed.

But things change: ambitions to develop Ranikhet as a tourist mecca beset the town and its habits which have given solace to a grieving heart.  Politicians of the type we know so well in Australia – charlatans peddling hate-messages to get themselves elected – bring a kind of fear that is different to the ever-present anxiety about the leopards which prowl the forests in the surrounding hills.  The trekking business brings the enigmatic Veer home to his uncle Diwan Sahib and into Maya’s still vulnerable heart, but The Folded Earth is no soppy romance…

The cleansing monsoon, so torrid that it is known to send people into ‘fits of rage’ is vividly evoked:

When the clouds came lower and lower, to rest on our hills, they wiped away the mountains on the other side of the valley and bleached the distant trees of colour, turning them into charcoaled lines on the grey-white sky.  Houses felt furry with fungus and damp.  Dripping umbrellas spoked pools of water before every front door. The hills were a lush, brilliant green, and wild gladioli drooped everywhere in the rain.  The forest was carpeted with pretty, mauve, orchid-like flowers.  Roads were reclaimed by nature as landslides buried them and waterfalls drowned them, the wind felled trees, electricity failed, and telephones died, cutting off our town.  Some days, the clouds gave way to lurid sunsets, and then the curtains closed again. (p154)

No wonder the unlettered Charu is shocked by the Delhi she has seen only in magazine photographs:

What she was not prepared for was the stench.  It smelt of putrid things, filthy drains, sewage, burning rubber, and smoke from factories.  The stench came in through the windows of the bus, it was all around and she could hardly draw breath without coughing.  She had not been prepared for the sky.  She had thought skies were blue everywhere, as grass was green or red roses red; but here the sky was the slate grey colour of village roofs, only dirtier. (p214)

What kind of future will we have, asks this author, when all the little towns and villages are denuded of integrity?  Cities are places of unforgiveness, of distorted values, and of poverty of spirit.  What this author shows us is the damage done when careless grasping for money, power, fame and revenge pollutes a small town.  Town life is no utopia and there are cruelties large and small, but the precious tolerance that citizens have for difference and oddity is easily lost. The last act suggests that there is no redemption for certain types of betrayal…

This is a very fine book indeed and I plan to seek out Roy’s first novel, An Atlas of Impossible Longing’.

PS I have limited internet access while I am on holiday at Cedar Creek in the Hunter Valley, and because it is intermittent and painfully slow, it is just too hard to search for other reviews or link to those that other members of the Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize team have written.  But if you click on the Man Asian logo in the RHS menu you will find them anyway.

Later on today the shortlist will be announced. The news will be on Twitter at #Man Asian so keep an eye out for it!

Now, outside to the veranda where the signal is strongest, to see if I can upload this post….

Author: Anuradha Roy
Title: The Folded Earth
Publisher: Maclehose Press (Quercus), London, 2011
ISBN: 9780857050441
Source: Personal library


  1. Interesting Lisa … I enjoyed this one well enough, but as you know, it lacked some cohesion or tight enough focus for me. Some good writing, though, and the character of Maya got me in from the start.


  2. […] Roy’s The folded earth (India) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. Lisa calls this “a superb novel” and said she […]


  3. Just finished reading The Folded Earth today and loved the story, and the surprise ending. The writing in parts was beautiful. It reminded me of Kiran Desai’s novel The Inheritance of Loss. I won’t be reading all the Shadow Man nominations but I do have The Lake from the library to read.



    • Ah Meg, it will be interesting to see what you think of The lake. Lisa liked The folded earth more than I did (though I did like it all the same) and I like The lake more than she did!

      As for The inheritance of loss. I’ve read that but my mind is blank about the details. Hopeless!


      • Ah, The Inheritance of Loss – that was a superb book. Has Desai written anything comparable since?


        • I don’t think Desai has written anything else since then. I did read her first book Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, but it was good but The Inheritance of Loss is very good. Now, after reading The Folded Earth, I want to read more about Nehru and Lady Mountbatten.



          • Hopefully this shortlisting will bring more of these fine writers to notice in the West!


  4. […] Opinions: ANZ Litlovers, Stargazerpuj’s Book Blog, Whispering Gums. Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like […]


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