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by Anuradha Roy
Reviewed by Akeela Gaibie-Dawood

This rich evocative novel takes you into the tranquil hills of Ranikhet, a little town set deep in the Himalayan Mountains, with Maya and a host of colorful hill people who become her family when she seeks refuge there in an attempt to get over the loss of her husband.

Maya, the protagonist-narrator, is from a traditional Hindu family but her decision to marry Michael (outside her caste and religion) meant that her family had disowned her, despite their strong bonds. Michael and Maya shared a profound love, but he loved trekking in the most challenging mountain peaks almost as much as he loved her. His premature death while on such a trek—under the most gruelling conditions—is something she must come to terms with, at her own pace.

Unable to find peace, Maya leaves home and travels for thousands of miles landing up at the Light House in Ranikhet where she rents quarters from the notable Diwan Sahib. He is in his 80s and is no longer the strapping young man he was before. He still has a twinkle in his eye, but this once-great storyteller with a catalogue of life stories to draw from is now an acerbic, gin-sipping old man, known for his cantankerous and brusque manner. Though he remains fiercely private, he allows Maya into his world wherein they form a bond and provide some sort of solace and companionship for one another.

The illiterate village woman, Ama, is another memorable character. Says Maya,

From here and there, she had picked up English phrases and words with which she seasoned her talk. If I had a cold, she would insist, 'You must breathe in steam from water boiled in Eucalipstick.' Every time prices rose, she said, 'Does Gormint care if we live or die?' Government was a person who lived far away and grew fat while her cheeks hollowed with too much work and too little food.

Maya also befriends and mentors the 17-year-old strong-willed Charu, a peasant girl who falls in love with a visiting Nepalese chef-in-training, Kundan Singh, and Maya watches as a beautiful love unfolds between these two young people in a culture not open to such relationships. Here, marriages are typically arranged for young people.

Roy's book is gorgeously written. The graceful prose is strewn with insights into the Indian psyche and landscape, and is laced with subtle humor and vibrant characters that together captivate from beginning to end. She tells a simple story set in a little village but, as the poetic title suggests, the earth folds in on itself so that, even in this microcosm, people cannot escape the machinery at work in the greater world: antagonism and hatred between different cultures and religious peoples, and bribery and corruption in political circles, are as ever-present here as they are in the wider sphere.

The Folded Earth is an accomplished and enjoyable book. It made me want to rush out to find Roy's debut novel, An Atlas of Impossible Longing, which was published in 2008 and has been translated already into fifteen languages.