The Earthspinner by Anuradha Roy – love, loss and longing

The story of a potter’s love for a girl explores myth, memory and the act of transformationit’s an incisive and moving novel about the struggle for creative achievement in a world consumed by growing fanaticism and political upheaval.

By Sana Goyal at The Guardian: Now at university in England, Sara looks back on her hometown in southern India. “This is the west,” where almost everything is within reach, but where she comes from, people have always known that “ordinary days can explode without warning, leaving us broken, collecting the scattered pieces of our lives”. Anuradha Roy’s carefully crafted fifth novel shows how, in such a place, things can change in extraordinary ways, even if new beginnings and worlds are hard to come by.

Elango is a Hindu potter. His dream is to create a terracotta horse; his crime is falling in love with a Muslim girl, Zohra, and wanting the “unbridgeable crevasse” between them to close (“the space between the two was a charnel house of burnt and bloodied human flesh, a giant crack through the earth that was like an open mouth waiting to swallow him”). What follows is a story of love, loss and longing; tradition, creation and destruction; and the invisible lines that divide humans, animals and the divine.

Told between the first and the third person, the novel revisits themes that readers of Roy will be familiar with: myth, memory and history. As in her previous novel, All the Lives We Never Lived, she engages with the epistolary form. But it is Roy’s longstanding fascination with the figure of the artist, who fathoms new objects from what the earth has to offer, that is fully fleshed out in this novel. As Sara, the narrator, recalls: “A caterpillar had escaped a fire and turned into a butterfly, and my clay had become my first cup on a new wheel. Anything was possible.” What propels the book forward is this constant brink of possibility and potential for transformation.

‘A horse was in flames. It roamed beneath the ocean breathing fire . . .’When he wakes up, Elango knows his life has changed. His dream will consume him until he gives it shape. The potter must create a terracotta horse whose beauty will be reason enough for its existence. Yet he cannot pin down from where it has galloped into his mind – the Mahabharata, or Trojan legend, or his anonymous potter-ancestors. Nor can he say where it belongs – in a temple compound, within a hotel lobby, or with Zohra, whom he despairs of ever marrying.

The astral, indefinable force driving Elango towards forbidden love and creation has unleashed other currents. A neighborhood girl begins her bewildering journey into adulthood, developing a complicated relationship with him. A lost dog adopts him, taking over his heart. Meanwhile, his community is driven by inflammatory passions of a different kind. Here, people, animals, and even the gods live on a knife’s edge and the consequences of daring to dream against the tide are cataclysmic.

Moving between India and England, The Earthspinner reflects the many ways in which the East encounters the West. It breathes new life into ancient myths, giving allegorical shape to the war of fanaticism against reason and the imagination. It is an intricate, wrenching novel about the changed ways of loving and living in the modern world.

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Although set in the 80s, The Earthspinner captures the mood of sectarian strife and futile fanaticism in contemporary India. And yet it is a quiet, gentle work, never gratuitous; Roy does not care to make grand political statements, nor is she interested in presenting a “novel of ideas”. “Things of this kind happen all over the world, every hour, perhaps every minute, more in some places than in others,” she writes of the violence and vitriol present within one community. But “the variations are infinite, and the particulars matter only to the people whose lives they touch”. Intricate yet intimate, the novel allows imagination to fill the rest – as all good fiction should.

The art of pottery is one of the most ancient human inventions, handed down from generation to generation. The Earthspinner also advocates for a gift: a harmonious sense of humanity. When forged with fire, both stand the test of time.

Goodreads: From the critically acclaimed, Booker Prize-nominated author of Sleeping on Jupiter and All the Lives We Never Lived:

One night, Elango has a dream that consumes him, driving him to give it shape. The potter is determined to create a terracotta horse whose beauty will be reason enough for its existence. Yet he cannot pin down from where it has galloped into his mind. The Mahabharata? The Trojan horse legend? His anonymous potter-ancestors? Once it’s finished, he does not know where his creation will belong. In a temple compound? Gracing a hotel lobby? Or should he gift it to Zohra, the woman he loves, yet despairs of ever marrying.

Anuradha Roy breathes new life into ancient myths, giving allegorical shape to the terrifying war on reason and the imagination waged by increasingly powerful forces of fanaticism. An epic that is a metaphor for our age, The Earthspinner is an intricate, wrenching novel about the transformed ways of loving and living in an increasingly uncertain world.

The Earthspinner by Anuradha Roy is published by Mountain Leopard (£16.99).