The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy

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The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Beautiful story telling and some delightfully eccentric characters, set in a stunning location in the foothills of the Himalayas - there's plenty to enjoy in this gentle and satisfying story of love, grief and secrets.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: February 2011
Publisher: MacLehose Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857388315

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Set in a remote hill top town in the Himalayas where the earth has folded to create the majestic scenery, a young woman, Maya, recently widowed arrives to be closer to the scene of her husband's climbing accident. There, she encounters a rich variety of characters who seem to leap of the page, foremost of which two at opposite ends both of society and life's journey - Charu, a young peasant girl whose emerging relationship with a young cook is touching and sweet, and Maya's eccentric landlord, a relict of the Raj who may or may not be in possession of some intriguing personal letters that pertain to India's history and the departing British.

There are three great strengths to this book. Firstly, the contrast between the timeless majesty and beauty of the landscape and the all too brief lives of the often rather less noble human residents who live there. This leads to the second reason that this is such a good read: Roy creates some wonderful, often quite eccentric characters. You can always tell when this is done to perfection when even the smallest bit part characters seem to come to life with a few brief idiosyncracies. The final thing that stands out about this book is that, while at times it's not altogether clear where the plot, such as it is, is heading, the final few pages make sense of the whole thing and may surprise you and will probably make you smile.

The overall tone of the book is gentle and charming, although that's not to say that it glosses over some important issues surrounding modern day India, but rather it gently sends these up with a delicate humour. There's the local bigwig whose attempts to steer the townsfolk towards exemplary behaviour extends merely to daubing the town with badly rhyming advice, the retired major who still wanders around as if he owns the place and Maya herself has been cut off from her family for marrying out of her religion. There's a steel hand in the velvet glove of Roy's storytelling.

Such is the beauty of the writing that one can forgive some slightly odd errors. At one point one of the characters climbing over the hills imagines dinosaurs in the landscape, which would have been tricky as the Himalayas were formed considerably afer the extinction of the dinosaurs.

One of the great charms of the book though is the depiction of the landscape and the power of the natural world there. You get a real sense of the physical world in which these humans precariously live. There is the power of the mountains themselves but also the risks of the wild animals that roam the area. Yes, several of the characters' lives are difficult and poor but they never feel sorry for themselves.

While it's not a particularly plot driven book, there's dignity and humanity in the lives of the residents. It's a book about love, loss and long standing personal conflicts. And while her characters are often larger than life, she never goes too far to make them mere caricatures.

Another nice touch is a glossary of Indian terms and words used in the book at the end. While for most fans of Indian fiction, this is perhaps not essential as most of these terms are widely used, it is helpful to have, as is the 'hand drawn' map of the town in the front of the book. Both nice touches by the publisher.

The book was long listed for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, and it's easy to see why. This is good, old-fashioned story telling of a very high order. Well worth checking out.

Our thanks to the kind people at MacLehose Press for sending this our way.

There's a fairly rich choice of Indian fiction to chose from, so to throw a curve-ball recommendation, for more stunning fiction centering on people living in challenging environments at the ends of the Earth, I'd strongly urge you to check out the fabulous The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Equally wonderful is The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone.

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Buy The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy at


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