PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Occasional Charms: Anuradha Roy's 'The Folded Earth'

A surplus of half-formed ideas mars an oddly lethargic novel.

The Folded Earth

Publisher: Free Press
Length: 253 pages
Author: Anuradha Roy
Price: $15.00
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2012-04

Anuradha Roy's debut novel An Atlas of Impossible Longing received heaps of critical praise upon its release in 2011, winding up on several year-end best-of lists. It's difficult to imagine the same destiny for her hastily-released follow-up, The Folded Earth. Despite its occasional charms, which are genuine, this book sags under many handicaps, not the least of which is a diffuse storyline which is often lethargic and nearly always less than riveting.

(A quick aside for Western readers: Anuradha Roy is not to be confused with Arundhati Roy, the novelist and essayist whose 1997 debut The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize and deserved all the praise it got, and then some.)

The Folded Earth tells the tale of Maya, a young widow in India who flees to an isolated Himalayan village following the tragic death of her husband. She settles into a languid life of teaching, sitting around with the local faded gentry, and reflecting upon her memories as a way of coming to terms with her husband's fate.

All of this is laid out fairly quickly, along with a cast of supporting characters that includes plucky village teenager Charu, her half-wit uncle Puran and mother Ama, and aging aristocrat Diwan Sahib, who keeps alive the memory of pre-Independence India. Mr Chauhan is present as well, a stuffy, self-important civil servant, as is the General, even older than Diwan Sahib, and Veer, Diwan Sahib's nephew, whose arrival in town threatens to upend Maya's semi-frozen existence.

One problem that the reader soon encounters is that, although delineated clearly enough, few of these characters are especially compelling. Apart from Charu and Diwan Sahib, none of them seems important enough to justify the space given to them. The early stages of the novel consist of a series of vignettes, which the reader hopes will coalesce into some central theme or narrative direction. It would be an overstatement to say that such a direction is altogether absent, but it certainly doesn't happen completely enough to justify the pages upon pages given over to setup and exposition.

Compounding this are the odd shifts in tone from one scene to the next. Maya's wrenching account of her young husband’s death occurs early on in the story and is the book's most moving passage, but this recounting of the tragedy and her subsequent bereavement is followed soon after by a slapstick episode featuring trespassing goats and the stuffy Mr Chauhan, whose idea of social uplift consists of posting signs around the village written in rhyming couplets.

It's hard to quantify why exactly the tonal shift is so unsettling; I lived in Pakistan for ten years, I've seen such signs as these, and am well aware that absurdity often rubs shoulders with extreme sadness. That said, though, the jumps in tone here feel pointless, serving only to confuse the reader and undermine the moments of real feeling.

Dangling plot threads have the same effect. An election pops up halfway through the story, with some attendant communal and religious violence; maybe, thinks the reader, this will give shape to the second half of the book. No such luck. Okay then, maybe the strong, elegaic reflections on India's lost wilderness, exemplified by Diwan Sahib's obsessive historical writing? Sorry. Roy introduces ideas large and small, only to drop them. Maya’s mother, who dies early on, is discovered with a knife beneath her pillow. This little tidbit is never mentioned again.

The story is told from Maya's point of view, except when it suits the author to forget this and jump into the consciousness of another character entirely, gaining access to things that Maya could never know. Forget narrative unity, or even comon sense—Maya confidently reports the thoughts, feelings, motivations and aspirations of numerous other characters, especially Charu.

To be fair, Charu is Maya's confidante and student, so some of her interpretation can be explained away, but there is far too much to swallow. This is especially true when Charu goes on a daring journey late in the book—the most engaging episode here, but one from which Maya is absent, bringing the illogic of her reportage into glaring focus.

Elsewhere, sloppy writing is evident in such moments as when Charu passes a shrine, then "turned superstitiously back"—how, exactly, does one turn superstitiously? Is it different from turning rationally? Later, eagles flying through the sky "become faraway dots quicker than the eye can see." Forget if you can the cliché blandness of "quicker than the eye can see." Try instead to picture eagles—eagles, which generally speaking, soar on outstretched wings—jetting through the air so fast that you are unable to follow them. Memo to the author: birds are not rockets.

This book isn't without merit, it just feels like a rough draft. All the elements of human drama are here, they're just out of proportion. Too many red herrings and meandering side stories are introduced, only to go nowhere (why does Veer race past her in the Jeep? No idea), while the parts of the story that are truly intriguing remain half-finished.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.