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The Pathless Sky

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In The Pathless Sky, Chaitali Sen conjures a world in which a nation’s political turmoil, its secret history and growing social unrest turn life into a fragile and capricious thing and love into a necessary refuge to be defended at all cost. A world not unlike the one we live in.
 
John, a hapless young student with a potentially brilliant academic career ahead of him, and Mariam, a shy, preternaturally perceptive woman from the north, meet and fall in love in college. Their early careers, their seemingly mismatched natures, and the alarming changes occurring in their country conspire to keep them apart for years. But a day comes when, across a great distance, both realize that they have always loved each other.
 
During the intervening years, however, the troubles in their country have reached a critical impasse. Government crimes have been white washed, personal liberty is deeply compromised, a resistance movement has emerged from the underground to take the fight for freedom to the streets, and the government militia employs increasingly draconian measures in an attempt to maintain control. When Mariam is implicated in the latest spell of anti-government actions and arrested without appeal, the consequences of her and John’s love will prove potentially dire for both.
 
The Pathless Sky is a haunting and moving novel for readers of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, and the novels of Amitav Ghosh. Sen’s lyrical language and fluid storytelling mirror the rhythms of political struggle itself. John and Mariam are unforgettable characters, troubled lovers who struggle to find a space for the finest human emotions in a place that is determined to abolish them.

320 pages, Paperback

First published October 27, 2015

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About the author

Chaitali Sen

3 books28 followers
Chaitali Sen is the author of the novel The Pathless Sky and the story collection A New Race of Men from Heaven. Her stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in New England Review, New Ohio Review, Colorado Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and other journals. She is a graduate of the Hunter College MFA program. Raised in New York and Pennsylvania, she now lives in Austin, Texas with her family.

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5 stars
49 (44%)
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36 (32%)
3 stars
18 (16%)
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Displaying 1 - 28 of 28 reviews
Profile Image for Kiran Bhat.
Author 11 books184 followers
September 9, 2021
A unique look at a nationless nation, and the struggles of characters lost to these heritages.
Profile Image for Lori Ostlund.
Author 9 books128 followers
August 2, 2016
A wonderful, beautifully written, nuanced book about the relationship between Mariam and John, which is shaped by the political situation in their country, a country that doesn't really exist, yet does.
Profile Image for Kavita Das.
Author 3 books40 followers
May 17, 2016
Late last night I finished Chaitali Sen's A Pathless Sky. It's amazing how vividly she paints a country which goes unnamed and how she populates it with such affecting characters and how much it resonates with all that's going on around us. I can't really do it justice with my own words, at the moment, so I'll use a few lines from the book. Be sure to add this to your summer reading list!

"I don't know what else to call it. Inspirational, maybe. I mean having to do with ideas and aspirations, not God. Not religion. It's about how the study of the earth is affected by history, by war and politics, and religion. It's about our country too, a kind of geological travelogue. I don't think there's another book like it. It leaves you wishing all of our self-imposed limitations would just fall away and humanity could be one, as it was meant to be."
Profile Image for Alice.
735 reviews20 followers
November 1, 2015
A beautiful and absorbing book about how the political situation in a country can influence personal relationships; and how family history influences how political events impact people.
Profile Image for Abeer Hoque.
Author 8 books119 followers
February 4, 2019
“People are never as afraid as their rulers think they should be,” Vic said. “Every regime finds this out the hard way.”

The Pathless Sky is Chaitali Sen’s debut novel and that much more remarkable for its assured and intense politics and intimacy. In a nameless country, beset by the usual national follies of discrimination, separatism, violence, and tyrannical rule (look no further, America!), John and Mariam meet on a college campus and fall in love. But their relationship is tested again and again by social strictures, regional unrest, academic pressures, family dynamics, and their country’s tyrannies and prejudices.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget Mariam’s character, her particular vulnerabilities, her clear spokenness, her heart. Not just Mariam, but every single character is writ large and lambent, from Mariam’s beautiful tortured mother to John’s awkward best friend to John himself: “…the weighted confidence, the lack of humor and self-doubt required of men in their thirties…”

Despite this, I don’t know that characters are even Sen’s greatest gift. The language in TPS is gorgeous, restrained, and lyrical, and the landscape exquisitely described: “One red door punctured a curved white wall.” Of course, as a geologist’s daughter, I found the theme of geology that runs through the book a joy to read. Precambrian granite and schist, you say? Bring it on. Last but not least, the plot builds inexorably and addictively to an end that left my heart aching and racing.

“The restful tedium that comes from an unquestioned sense of belonging…”

Sen takes on all the challenges, from petty academic battles to deep and subtle relationship dynamics to large scale political strife, and she does it all masterfully. TPS reminded me somewhat of Exit West, the 2017 Booker-long-listed novel by Mohsin Hamid. I loved Exit West, but Sen offers the reader a more contained and compelling book with less conceit. I am agog that this is her first book and can’t wait to read more.
Profile Image for joanne.
47 reviews16 followers
August 16, 2022
i found this in a used bookstore for a few dollars so i was like eh why not, not really expecting much but i actually quite liked this book. the style of writing is beautiful and captivating even though i wasn't super into the plot, as it's just very mundane but i think the writing really brought to life the mundaneness of life and love and marriage and the sacrifices that come alongside those things. it's a good book that i don't regret reading it, but i wouldn't go out of my way to read it again
Profile Image for Lisa.
500 reviews
February 26, 2016
Set in a fictional, politically unstable country, The Pathless Sky ultimately is a love story told in evocative prose. The relationships among the characters, both minor and major, kept my book club talking for a long time!

Our discussion was also enhanced by being able to Skype with the author! It was such a treat to discuss how this interesting book came to be.
Profile Image for Laura.
334 reviews1 follower
December 10, 2017
The best way to describe this book is that it is a still life portrait. The artistry was amazing, her lyricism held a deep realism but yet still poetic quality to it that was enjoyable. But the subject matter. Boring. Disappointing. Lackluster. The characters did not inspire any form of empathy, John was awful for most of the book, and Mariam...was so unimaginative. There was very little character development for anyone in the story. It centered around the deeply intense love between Mariam and John, the times they hated each other, the times they craved each other more than anything. The whole pregnancy thing made very little sense. It seemed to be a very random plot device thrown in to make conflict in the middle of the story, which made it even less of a thrilling read. I was more fascinated by paralells of geology (the actual physicality of the land) versus the very human symbolism placed upon it by people, governments, religions. But most of that theme was stripped away by vague mentions of what that importance was and the fact that the reader is never given an actual name for the country the book is in. It is heavily implied to be in the mid-nineteenth century and somewhere in the middle east. The descriptions have a very human quality to them:
"The terrain eventually became more feminine, less angular" p. 101.
Yes, part of that reflection of human qualities imposed upon the landscape, that people attach importance to the land they are. Her writing is hypnotic, and almost makes you forget how boring the plot is, how monotonous and selfish the characters are. The love between Mariam and John takes center stage at specific points in the book, then it slips back into the political unrest within this unnamed country. This book could not make up its mind on what it wanted to be. A commentary on the singular lives on individuals and how they are effected by the gears of politics and war? A love story that spans a lifetime? Maybe a story showcasing the landscape, the people, the government, and how they all are intertwined? I don't know. I walked away from this book not knowing really what type of story I was presented. It was so beautifully written that by the time I realized how boring the plot and characters were, I had fully committed and needed to finish the book.
"To chase the ghosts of mountains" p. 166
Yeah, that about sums up this book. To chase the ghost of a story. Bleh.
1 review
September 28, 2022
The Pathless Sky is an engrossing novel that grabs you and doesn’t let go! Set in a fictional or unnamed country that seems Eastern European (Ukraine, perhaps?), this is a cinematic, romantic, societal, intensely personal saga. Finely detailed but quick to read, and conjuring beautiful visuals, we root for Mariam and John the whole way.
Profile Image for Robin McMillion.
43 reviews
September 17, 2019
Wow. This book took my breath away, and I don't say that about many books. Turbulent times, harrowing experiences. If you've ever asked yourself how you would handle an impossible situation that affects your entire future, this is the book to read. Everybody keep an eye on this writer!
Profile Image for Melanie.
221 reviews
September 1, 2019
This book! I love it so much. It's quietly, steadily awesome - and by the end so affecting. I will recommend it compulsively.
Profile Image for Sekji Ani.
Author 3 books19 followers
November 18, 2019
The elegant writing evoked not only visuals and nostalgia for a previous life, but scents, sounds and textures. Take your time and revel in the world created.
Profile Image for Abeer Hoque.
Author 8 books119 followers
January 21, 2019
“People are never as afraid as their rulers think they should be,” Vic said. “Every regime finds this out the hard way.”

The Pathless Sky is Chaitali Sen’s debut novel and that much more remarkable for its assured and intense politics and intimacy. In a nameless country, beset by the usual national follies of discrimination, separatism, violence, and tyrannical rule (look no further, America!), John and Mariam meet on a college campus and fall in love. But their relationship is tested again and again by social strictures, regional unrest, academic pressures, family dynamics, and their country’s tyrannies and prejudices.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget Mariam’s character, her particular vulnerabilities, her clear spokenness, her heart. Not just Mariam, but every single character is writ large and lambent, from Mariam’s beautiful tortured mother to John’s awkward best friend to John himself: “…the weighted confidence, the lack of humor and self-doubt required of men in their thirties…”

Despite this, I don’t know that characters are even Sen’s greatest gift. The language in TPS is gorgeous, restrained, and lyrical, and the landscape exquisitely described: “One red door punctured a curved white wall.” Of course, as a geologist’s daughter, I found the theme of geology that runs through the book a joy to read. Precambrian granite and schist, you say? Bring it on. Last but not least, the plot builds inexorably and addictively to an end that left my heart aching and racing.

“The restful tedium that comes from an unquestioned sense of belonging…”

Sen takes on all the challenges, from petty academic battles to deep and subtle relationship dynamics to large scale political strife, and she does it all masterfully. TPS reminded me somewhat of Exit West, the 2017 Booker-long-listed novel by Mohsin Hamid. I loved Exit West, but Sen offers the reader a more contained and compelling book with less conceit. I am agog that this is her first book and can’t wait to read more.
Profile Image for Kristina.
195 reviews
August 31, 2022
A lovely, heartbreaking book. I loved the character of Miriam so much: her sensitivity, her longing, her pain, her awkwardness -- it was all so well-drawn and realistic. I was absorbed by this character and her story. Her involvement in her work, its importance to her, really spoke to me. IMO, John's only redeeming quality was that he saw how amazing she was; otherwise, he wasn't worthy of her. Which is not the point of fiction, but she felt so real to me -- I felt like her friend trying to tell her not to bother with him, even though she wouldn't have listened to me. The connections between this couple's personal life and the political situation they were in was expertly conveyed, as these were two regular people hemmed in and shaped by politics and history without actively choosing to be "political."

I found this novel totally absorbing. Before reading it, I happened across a short story by this author called "A New Race of Men From Heaven" which was one of those amazing stories that packs so much in while retaining its elegance and adherence to the short story form--stunning. I am really looking forward to reading more by this author. Check it out if you liked this novel: https://shenandoahliterary.org/682/a-...
Profile Image for Suellen.
1,957 reviews41 followers
January 21, 2016

January 2016 Late Night Library Book Club Selection

Author interview:
Late Night Conversation, hosted by Paul Martone
http://latenightlibrary.org/chaitalisen/

The Pathless Sky takes place in an unnamed country that is in political turmoil. Even through all the social unrest John and Mariam find each other and fall in love. They are kept apart through most of the story because of social and political circumstances. They do eventually marry and have a brief period of peace and tranquility. Then Mariam suffers through an unsuccessful pregnancy. This causes internal conflict in the couple just is an external conflict is raging outside.

This is a beautifully written love story. Each and every sentence was a treasure. I just can't stress enough how much I loved this haunting tale.

I am so thankful that Late Nght Library turned me onto this book. So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed every book they have sent me through their book club. You should consider joining.
Profile Image for Susan DeFreitas.
Author 4 books69 followers
September 1, 2016
This is really quite a lovely book, and though, being a somewhat of a quiet literary love story, it doesn't quite suit my tastes in fiction, I found it compelling, especially in the ways it addresses the intersection of the personal and political. In the end, I told my husband (who never reads books like this but enjoyed it as well), "It's sort of amazing that this is a love story about a passport." A definite eye opener for anyone who's never felt their life's possibilities constrained by their ostensible legal status.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Mcnair.
952 reviews1 follower
November 16, 2015
This book delves into a couple's nations political turmoil, its secret history and the growing tenseness of their social unrest. The couple meets in college, falls in love and ultimately ends up together. But when the wife can't get a passport, things go downhill from there with their future and their love. An interesting read, but not one of my favorite ones and I felt the husband needed to be stronger as followed their story.
Profile Image for Karin Mckercher.
137 reviews10 followers
January 30, 2016
I'm not sure the structure (she started with the smoking gun) worked, and the story was never deeply developed. Twenty pages from the end, my thought was, "Did I miss the climax and the conflict?" There are plenty of challenges, I'm just not sure any one of them was a conflict. It's unclear why the area is under militia control or why Mariam is taken. Lots of missed opportunities to make a story good.
1 review
April 22, 2016
I savored this book. Truly savored. I'm a notorious half-reader of books; if a book doesn't compel me, I'm happy to put it down. But from the beginning of this book I was so engrossed. Reading this book was like revisiting beloved friends-- i just loved Mariam and John, so expertly drawn. The plot, the themes-- I loved it all.
Profile Image for Rayme.
Author 3 books34 followers
Read
December 19, 2015
I really enjoyed and recommend this novel. Sen does a great job of modeling a complicated love story on the chassis of brewing political upheaval. This (debut!) novel is a great hybrid of ambitious literary tale and a tight, suspenseful driven story. Europa Editions seems to have the most winning formula I've seen for publishing quality work.
72 reviews1 follower
December 5, 2015
I loved it. I don't usually much care for books with fictional settings, but this one was so easy to see and relate to (I thought of it as being maybe in the Caucasus - but I was glad not to have to spend a lot of time googling maps and whatnot). I guess what I liked most was the way the pathos of the politics and the longings of the characters synergized so seamlessly.
Profile Image for Pam Parker.
Author 1 book15 followers
January 28, 2016
The Pathless Sky is a beautiful love story. We follow a young couple from self-discovery to finding each other and navigating tragedies and political intrigue. Sen deftly creates a fictional country that feels very real. Hard to believe its a debut novel!
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,909 reviews
February 27, 2016
This book details the relationship between John and Mariam over the years paralleled with political conflict in a fictional country. At times it didn't feel like there was a real plot or climax, and I was left with gaps. I liked the writing and was intrigued by the story.
Profile Image for Renee.
89 reviews11 followers
January 21, 2016
Stunning prose and absorbing plot. Highly recommend this wonderful novel.
March 26, 2017
I've never put a book down feeling like it was a completely different one from what I had originally picked up. The characters feel so fully realized precisely because you realize you don't know them at all - they change throughout the story and become almost strangers to you, much like people in your own life do. The Pathless Sky covers issues of love, war, career, friendship, and family while somehow never leaving you feeling like the content is too much for the story to carry. I adored this and can't wait until I've been away from it long enough to revisit it with fresh eyes.
Displaying 1 - 28 of 28 reviews

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