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Latitudes of Longing

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A sweeping, lyrical debut about the love and longing between humanity and the earth itself, by a major new literary talent from India

A spellbinding work of literature, Latitudes of Longing follows the interconnected lives of characters searching for true intimacy. The novel sweeps across India, from an island, to a valley, a city, and a snow desert to tell a love story of epic proportions. We follow a scientist who studies trees and a clairvoyant who speaks to them; a geologist working to end futile wars over a glacier; octogenarian lovers; a mother struggling to free her revolutionary son; a yeti who seeks human companionship; a turtle who transforms first into a boat and then a woman; and the ghost of an evaporated ocean as restless as the continents. Binding them all together is a vision of life as vast as the universe itself.

A young writer awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in India for this novel, Shubhangi Swarup is a storyteller of extraordinary talent and insight. Richly imaginative and wryly perceptive, Latitudes of Longing offers a soaring view of humanity: our beauty and ugliness, our capacity to harm and love each other, and our mysterious and sacred relationship with nature.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published July 31, 2018

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About the author

Shubhangi Swarup

4 books202 followers
Shubhangi Swarup is a journalist and educationist. She was awarded the Charles Pick Fellowship for Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, and has also won awards for gender sensitivity in feature writing. She lives in Mumbai.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 29 of 610 reviews
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,183 followers
July 8, 2020
Have you ever ached over something so beautiful it took your breath away? A waterfall perhaps or a brilliant sunset, or maybe a poem.  

Latitudes of Longing left me reeling, weighted under the sheer beauty of its prose. It swept me off my feet and left me breathless.

Author Shubhangi Swarup captivated me with her writing. Her words are written with such beauty and cadence. They dance off the page and into your heart. 

Often this style of writing comes across as overly sentimental and turns me off. That is not the case with this novel. 

Shubhangi Swarup has penned a brilliant debut, showing the interconnectedness of everything on earth. Her descriptions are lush, her style meditative. She shows the brevity of human life when compared to geological time. Our brief lives as we dance across the earth, an earth that is constantly shifting and changing. 

Our tiny lives set against the backdrop of mountains climbing and receding into the ocean.

There are several characters in this novel and each is hauntingly real. Their stories unfold across several settings, all rich with geological and human history: the Andaman Islands (new location for my bucket list!), India, Kashmir, Myanmar.

I feel inadequate to appropriately convey the beauty and intensity of Latitudes of Longing. It's one of those books you just have to read for yourself.  
Profile Image for Rakhi Dalal.
208 reviews1,431 followers
November 15, 2018
What can you say of a work which stuns you with the lyrical intensity of its prose right through to the middle and then makes you shift uneasily in your place as you try to understand the wayward course the narrative assumes further thereby letting you suddenly jerk from your stupor and making you want to skip some pages because the prose feels all too repetitive providing no reprieve till the end.

For a debut work, the author's style is worthy of praise. I loved how the writing seemed almost effortless till the middle but as it progressed, the author seemed to ran out of ideas to hold the story together or perhaps it was me who didn't get it. To me the novel seemed a little too ambitious for its scope. But I would definitely be looking for further works by the author.

2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,292 reviews2,287 followers
April 16, 2023
I should not struggle while reading a good book.

For this one, I was wishing for it to end soon, and I was just struggling to finish it up asap.

One of those few books which I wanted to read till the end and see what the big deal was about.

Nothing much is there to say that it could have been much better. The writing is fine. But too slow and moody for me. It keeps changing and the characters keep fleeting here and there in your mind that you just cannot hold them in your head while reading about them.

The first few pages would make you swim until a few pages later on making you feel you're getting into the book.

Then the next few pages will thoroughly entertain you with characters which make you feel like they are human but invincible as well.

Things keep happening with plants and people and routines and marital bliss. This part of the book is the best. The writing shines here with some paranormal beings in the picture; humor at its best; domestic bliss described as it is; the island and the lives on it brimming.

But after that the writing becomes haphazard and a bit too dull.

The book tried to represent so many things at once.

The mental health picture of someone trying to cope with life and family in a secluded island. I feel like the character was kept imprisoned by the author as opposed to the many facets of the island life as presented in the first one third of the book.

But yes, I can feel the pain, the grief, the longing and the loneliness of the characters in such an environment as portrayed. Because life changes. And we grow old and things do not remain the same.

I know this book represented some important issues regarding survival, mystical nature and the nature in general, imprisonment and some relevant political issues, historically representative, disasters that happened, war, unavoidable circumstances we have to face in our lives, love and relationships, some unfortunate events; death, grief and separation; repentance and regrets.

But it became so incredibly dragging and explanatory towards the end that I just have no patience left for the ending.

Nothing much caught my interest or held my attention after 40 percent of the book even though things keep happening alongwith the introduction of new characters and events related to them.

I lost all interest when I reached 70 percent of the book.

I rushed through the last few pages and forced myself to finish up the book.

No, I just couldn't enjoy the rest of the book like I did for the first 30 percent of the book.

I wish the writing could stay the same as how it was at the beginning throughout the whole book. It became too bland, too serious and too monotonous towards the end.
Profile Image for Padmaja.
157 reviews1 follower
October 21, 2018
What a beautiful book this was!! Easily one of the best books I have read till date.
This book is divided in four sections, Islands, Faultline, Valley and Snow desert.
It covers a vast canvas from the Andamans, Burma(Myanmar), Nepal and the no man's land separating India and Pakistan.
Each page has been written with such conviction, laden with description which makes it very lyrical. Reading it felt like the oceans and mountains coming together and narrating a beautiful story. It felt like I was conversing with the Andaman Islands, taking in everything it has to offer! I could imagine the trees talking with me, the ocean silently sharing it's stories with me!! A highly imaginative piece of work!
I love books which have strong characters, ones who stay with you long after you've finished reading the book. Girija Prasad, Chanda Devi, Mary, Plato, Thapa, Apo, Ghazala and Bebo are such gratifying characters! I personally learnt a lot about the Andaman history, the Karen community, political uprisings in Burma, the colonials and the opium trade! References to Savarkar and Tilak won me! The geological details were so insightful! Reminded me of my summer vacations where I used to pore over books which had information about mountains, oceans and volcanoes, about the time I had almost decided to be a Geologist!
This book is a literary masterpiece and worth your time! A soulful book to get lost into, I highly recommend this one and will be rooting for this one to win the JCB prize 2018 ♥️
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,741 reviews2,266 followers
June 6, 2021

This debut novel, a series of four connected stories, Islands, Faultline, Valley, and Snow Desert, was originally published in India in 2018, and takes the reader on a journey through South Asia and through time.

5 Stars
Islands tells the story of a newly married couple, Giriji Prasad and Chanda Devi living on a tropical island, where silence is the relentless sound of water. The waves, like your own breaths, never leave you. For a fortnight now, the gurgle and thunder of clouds has drowned out the waves. Rains drum on the roof and skid over the edge, losing themselves in splashes. Simmer, whip, thrum, and slip. The sun is dead they tell you.’

As newlyweds, they are but ’strangers in a bedroom damp with desire and flooded with incipient dreams. And Girija Prasad dreams furiously these days. For the rains are conducive to fantasies, an unscientific truth.’

For me, this was the most engaging of these stories, but I enjoyed them all, even though their appeal varied. I loved the setting of this somewhat isolated Andaman Islands under the British Empire, and Chanda’s character, she communes with the trees, with as well as with spirits, whereas Girja is more technical and scientific, having received an Oxford education.

4 Stars
Faultline follows the life of Girija’ and Chanda’s maid, Mary, as well as her son, who goes by Plato rather than his given name. Plato is in a Burmese prison, a political prisoner.
’He crawls to a corner and sits with his back against the damp wall, weeping with drops of humidity…Current, that’s all he is. Passing through different bodies and lives.’

3 Stars
Valley follows Thapa, a friend of Mary’s son, who is from Nepal, and who meets a very young dancer at a bar in Kathmandu. He is closer to sixty, and she is ’…young enough to be his granddaughter.’

’What the rest of the world consumes as breath is, in this land, a musical instrument. The mountains use the air to hum, drum, howl, and sing. They use the air to connect your soul to their own. For once you have breathed in the mountain air, there is no turning back. No matter where you live out your story, the outcome will have been decided by the mountains.’

3 Stars
Snow Desert, is set in the Karakoram Mountains, in a remote village, and follows the story of Apo, the ’Grandfather of the entire village, a man who ’feels that…the past is real and the present is a half-baked memory Sometimes, the past is an incomprehensible beast and the future its unrealized shadow. He spends his time trying to preserve, share the myths, legends.

While these stories, particularly the last two, seemed to echo, repeat similar themes, a dose of magical realism, and the lovely writing throughout made this more than a worthwhile read for me.

Published: 19 May 2020

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group – Random House / One World
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,427 reviews2,499 followers
May 30, 2020
When Girija Prasad first came here, he arrived believing in halftruths like "no man is an island." It has taken him a year to realise that no island is an island either. It is part of a greater geological pattern that connects all the lands and oceans of the world.

This is one of those books that both heralds a debut author's vast talent, and yet also fails to capitalise on it. Swarup is nothing if not ambitious but this is also her downfall as the four sections of the book become decreasingly coherent.

The first is wonderful: in seductive, lush prose that intertwines metaphor, magic and myth, this tells a story of a new marriage. It's the writing, the vision and the imagination that work so well, and there's heart here, too - and the story ends on an image that is breathtaking.

But then the page turns and we're in a different story, one of political resistance and imprisonment under Burma's military regime. The writing turns flat and never really recovers and however important a topic, this adds nothing new to all the other stories we've read about torture and brutality. And really the book never picks up again. It wanders widely across Asia but it feels like the stories are researched but not really felt or experienced.

It's a shame because Swarup can write beautifully: there are influences of Rushdie and Arundhati Roy in her use of figurative language, and the way she creates a vision that melds the individual with political, cultural and ecological forces. Overall, she seems to be heading towards some kind of vision of unity - sadly, the fractured stories after the first one work against, rather than towards, her goal.

For all my critiques, I'd recommend this simply because it feels like the first book of an author who will go on to greater things: this may be uneven but at its best, it's glorious.

Thanks to Quercus/riverrun for an ARC via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Khyati Gautam.
704 reviews166 followers
October 23, 2018
Latitudes of Longing is a lyrical debut that definitely marks the arrival of a fantastic literary talent. Covering a vast expanse of land, people, and numerous stories, this book has everything to offer you. It is astonishing, riveting, emotionally enriched, and wonderfully crafted!
A book filled with varied life-forms ranging from turtle to humans, a book comprising different landscapes – from Andamans to the Karakoram passes, a book which speaks many stories – of a clairvoyant lady to the one eager to get her son released from prison, a book which is poetic, artistic, aesthetic, enriching, and above all, magical. To sum it all, this book is beautiful! It contains the elixir in each page where rests the multiple words and emotions flowing out of a master storyteller’s head.

I didn’t know that this book would become close to my heart for its sheer narration which is indeed riveting. I am amazed at the coherence of the different stories which run parallel to each other, in different lands, in different times and yet stand still for a reader willing to devour them. The gripping writing style had me and the lines such as “Life is more than the sum of its breaths and terrors” won me completely. I am still in the awe of the way the plot has been designed, developed and presented that beguiled not only me but would hook anyone pursuing a delightful and honest work of art.

The character development is wonderful and the stunning descriptions of several places made me long to visit them, hold those picturesque vistas in the periphery of my vision, and savor their atmosphere under my warm and slow breath. In a long time, I came across a heart-warming book that pulled me out of my reading slump and made me turn each page of it to discover something new. It was like the stories running through the novel were calling me to hustle and slow down and stop by to touch the lives of those who live within the pages but breathe in all of us.

It is a dream-like narrative that catches you off guard and you have no option but to go with the flow of the book. Initially, I thought that the whole book would revolve around Girija Prasad and Chanda Devi but no! the book stretches to an unimaginable infinity. Those infinities strengthen your imagination and shake your beliefs. There is not one but several protagonists who tell their story in their own way. The author has dealt with them very well. Nowhere you would find an unbridgable gap. There is an island, there is a fault line, there is a valley and there is this snow desert. So many seasons, so many reasons, to live the book in an enthralling fashion. You get to know the Karens, The Burma, tensions arising amidst India, Pakistan & China, their mutual distrust and mistrust, anguish and fights and consequently everything boiling down to that one auspicious hour of Courtship! Aah! What a book, What a lovely piece to cherish and treasure to keep. It touched the contours of my heart and dissolved it. It didn’t end in 326 pages. Its essence still continues to brush past my skin.

Some dreams are so beautiful and fragile, they are left unrealized.
Profile Image for 8stitches 9lives.
2,784 reviews1,625 followers
May 18, 2020
Latitudes of Longing is nothing short of an exquisite tour de force and a sparkling debut full of originality and the pep and pizazz of natures bounty. This marks the start of a powerful and masterful new literary voice and one of the most beautiful and profound reads of the past few years for me. I went into this not knowing much more about it than the synopsis and some spoiler-free reviews and I recommend going in as blind as possible in order to gain maximum enjoyment; I think it’s really quite sufficient just to mention the glowing reviews it has received from both press and fellow authors as well as the fact that it's an award-winning novel. Spanning a vast swathe of the Indian subcontinent, we readers are invited into four very different but equally mesmerising interconnecting stories and it's testament to Swarup’s writing skill that she is both able to tell the stories from a personal level discussing the family implications before widening to explore the local surroundings, ecology and mother natures relationship with her earthly creations. As a character-driven tale, I was captivated and found every little aspect beguiling.

This is a complex, multilayered and extensively thought out collection of stories in which a multitude of vastly different characters make up the intriguing cast and is at times both hopeful and hopeless. It's thought-provoking and moving with some truly luscious and delightfully rich descriptions of nature and our planet and people. The lyrical prose was absolutely breathtaking and elevated the plot to whole new heights; it's difficult to convey the feeling of reading such beauty suffice to say that it effortlessly casts a spell over you and refuses to let you go. Shifting seamlessly between different epoch’s and locations we are treated to a vividly portrayed world and characters that leap off the pages and into your heart; so full of realism and credibility. I cannot recommend this stunning book highly enough. The way it explores the relationships between nature and humanity and our ceaseless ability to both hurt and heal the ones we love make for superb reading. A true and otherworldly masterpiece in which a rare majesty abounds. Many thanks to riverrun for an ARC.
Profile Image for Mansi Mudgal.
47 reviews66 followers
September 22, 2018
Latitudes of Longing is a book that is beautiful and lyrical, something that is read and savoured slowly to fully immerse oneself in this journey; a journey that spans a few decades or thousands of years? We must find out ourselves.

The story follows the life of Girija Prasad, a man and a scientist in Andaman Islands in the newly independent India. It talks of the inhabitants in this place and the surrounding environment. Nature or to be more specific “Earth” is the binding as well as connecting link in this book; we go from Islands to Fault-lines that is Burma(Myanmar) with Its Civil war and military regime, we follow the freedom and imprisonment of one Plato, his mother..... we go to the mountains and then to the glaciers, a place where the most primitive of tribes show wisdom surpassing the brightest of minds....

I am having a hard time writing about what I think of the book and it’s essence. Know this: it’s wonderful and I would love for everyone looks it up and read it!
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
March 20, 2022
This book has been sitting on my to read shelf for a while, so I was glad when it was chosen for a discussion by the 21st Century Literature group this month. Its scope is undoubtedly bold - it mixes history, geology, folk tales, magic realism and pure fantasy in an epic tale in four loosely connected parts set around India's borders, and more specifically the edges of the Indian continental plate in the Andaman Islands, Burma, Nepal and Ladakh.

The writing is exuberant if a little too obviously influenced by Rushdie, and some of the individual stories are quite effective, but I am not sure that the book works as a cohesive whole and some of the pure inventions, notably the caricatured English colonials, are a little too wildly implausible for my taste.
Profile Image for Helly.
195 reviews3,379 followers
November 5, 2018
A Splendid novel that moves smoothly - highly recommended for all types of readers.
Profile Image for Renee Godding.
611 reviews575 followers
September 10, 2020
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

"All of us are burdened by the twin destinies of saying goodbye to our loved ones and departing from our loved ones ourselves. Let this not obliterate the greater destiny we all share - the fleeting moments we have together."

Latitudes of Longing first drew my attention with it stunning title and cover upon release, and has been constantly on my radar ever since. For some reason it was very difficult for me to get my hands on it where I live, so it took me a long time to actually get to it, but it was well worth the wait. Shubhangi Swarub has delivered one of the most impressive and ambitious debuts I’ve read in recent years, with this novel that spans generations, continents and the full plane of literary skill. The novel is split up in 4 sections, all set against a different geological backdrop and featuring different characters, yet all connected to another in subtle ways, as well as thematically.

It’s difficult to describe what Latitudes of Longing is or what it did to me, as it doesn’t quite compare to many other books I’ve read and loved, but stands truly on its own. It’s the type of book that feels like a journey: an exploration of different continents where you can feel, smell and taste the world around you through Swarub’s words. Along the way you meet characters that feel real enough to be actual encounters along your travels, where you get a glimpse of their personal lives as you pass through. I especially loved meeting Girija Prasad and Chanda Devi, and actually started missing them throughout the rest of the book, as their part ended.
That leads me to the only reason I had to knock off half a star: after part one ended, the story failed to grab me for a bit. I couldn’t immediately care for Plato the way I did for Girija Prasad and Chanda Devi, and I wanted the story to return to them.
But isn’t that the way most journeys are? You realise the full beauty of a place once you’ve travelled on, and start to long back to it for a while. Only to open your eyes again and start to realise the beauty that is in front of you right now, and appreciate that even more.
With the Corona-virus still limiting traveling for almost everybody, I’d highly recommend this beautifully written novel to take you on a journey around the world from the comfort of your living room.
Profile Image for Nidhi Mahajan.
112 reviews101 followers
October 28, 2018
Originally posted on my blog.

An Origin Story: Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup

In the Acknowledgements of her debut novel, Latitudes of Longing, Shubhangi Swarup writes that her muse is “our unassuming planet, a being that bears more beauty, magic and resilience than this human mind can fathom.” It took Swarup about seven years to somewhat gauge this being and paint a picture of it in words.

Latitudes of Longing comprises four interconnected stories, though numerous human and non-human characters inhabit the novel’s eccentric landscape. Shortlisted for the JCB Prize for Literature, the novel is a philosophical lesson in the laws of the universe, a meditation on love and longing, and a topographic narrative experiment. At the heart of the novel is, I believe, an origin story.

Beginning and End, and Beginning
Girija Prasad, a "diligent documenter of the plant kingdom", is invested in researching the ancestor of all continents: Pangaea. He is adamant on drawing his own map of the Andaman Islands, where he lives with his clairvoyant wife, Chanda Devi. Girija's search is an originary one, an attempt to know how it all came to be. Swarup writes,

"Only a fool would consider the shores of continents, sandbanks and parched patches the ends to the unbroken surface of water. At best, they are breaks and pauses. Or mindless chatter. Islands are mindless chatter in a meditative ocean."

Bound with this search for the origins of mountains and islands, is the idea of birth. Girija and Chanda's daughter is born out of her parents' most cherished dreams and memories. With birth, there is also its flip-side, death. In a jungle, the couple encounters a particular variety of palm which is "documented to flower only once in its lifetime, after which it dies."

There are other originary tales in the novel too, drawn along a single volatile faultline on earth, which is Swarup's topographic and narrative setting. Girija and Chanda's story comes full circle at the end of the novel, which is also a beginning.

Names and Naming
On the human timeline, what usually follows birth is naming, for everything that exists for us must have a name. In the last section of the novel, Apo narrates, to Ghazala, the story of how the Valley of Blood Apricots got its name.

"Apricots in the valley bore a red drop in the flesh, close to the seed—a reminder of a Sufi's quest for his beloved."

Apo and Ghazala live on no man's land, an imaginative intersection somewhere between India, Pakistan, and China. This land is claimed by each of those countries at different points in history. What follows this claiming is, of course, naming and renaming.

In section one of the novel, one meets Lord Goodenough, who embodies the unsupervised kleptomaniac desire to capture, to colonise, and to name. This power-play comes at a violent cost that is to be borne, for generations, by human beings and nature alike.

Writing and Storytelling
In section three of the novel, Plato tells his friend Thapa,

"Many writers spend a lifetime writing, yet they suffer like you. When they write, it is about their own life. That is art's biggest tragedy. . . [W]e can't tell a single story of which we are not the centre."

This is both true and false for Swarup's own novel and, I think, it is an important point of reflection. The novel is about the vast expanse of the universe, but it is also about the minutest of organisms that form a micro-universe of their own. At the centre of it all is the thinking human, the history-maker, the storyteller.

This is perhaps the reason why succeeding sections in the novel become increasingly dense with stories, such that by the end you almost feel chocked by them. Yet, Apo says,

"The best stories are the ones that are still to come. . . Close enough to hear, smell and admire. Yet out of reach."

Finally, as I said to a friend, Latitudes of Longing is almost like Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things had a book baby with Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, whose not-so-distant relative is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude.

However, like all (book) babies, it develops its own character traits and personality. This review scratches only the surface of everything and more that this novel is.

Latitudes of Longing: A Novel by Shubhangi Swarup, published by HarperCollins Publishers India, 2018.
Profile Image for Sailee Dhole.
84 reviews18 followers
November 10, 2018
Picked it up because of so many great reviews about this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the first part. It’s beautifully written and the plot line is excellent. But the book seemed to drag in the second part and completely lost me by the third part. It seemed the author was trying too hard to insert metaphors which flowed so seamlessly in the first part. Started with high hopes but disappointed.
Profile Image for Smriti.
610 reviews567 followers
September 13, 2018
Aaaaah, what a beautiful BEAUTIFUL book. I can not recommend this enough.

A debut novel of Shubhangi Swarup, the prose and the thought behind this book just swept me away. Full of love, loss, family, friendship and everything in between - this book had me hooked in just the first few pages.

Broken into four parts, each part uncovers the lives of different people in different parts of the Indian subcontinent. But you'll see as time goes by that everything is connected. My favourite will always be the first part as well as the second. The rest are also beautiful but the first part will always have my heart. I have a feeling I'm going to keep going back to this one.
Profile Image for Surabhi Chatrapathy.
101 reviews28 followers
April 27, 2019
I love books that stretch my imagination, books that hold my attention and tie me to a chair until I finish it. Latitudes of Longings was one such book for me.

Every page is written  from the depths of a deep meditation. As though the ocean bed has paitently stitched this novel together over centuries. The movement is so subtle, that you could easily miss it. 

I feel as though I've seen, touched and spoken to the soul of the Andaman Islands. They seemed to have poured their deepest secrets into words and imagery in this book. The grandmother of evolution has whispered the stories of the continents, islands, trees and animals into the pages of this book. 

With such an intense background, the story does not fail in delivering deep, soul touching characters. Grijia prasad, Chanda Devi, Mary, Plato, Bebo, Thapa. As diverse as the names are the stories. With every page I wondered where else we would travel, whom else we would encounter and what mystic, confounding story do they bring?

With speaking trees, mountains and reptiles, this book is one of those whose vivid descriptions will forever remain with you. Irrespective of you liking it or not. The writing is intense, and poetic. The whole novel is woven in ironies and philosophical musings.

The history of the Andamans, World War II, the colonials, the political struggle in Burma, the opium trade and so much is covered in this book.  

I understand that a lot of people found this book slow, but I think it's enjoying a big cup of well brewed tea. You need to give it time and attention and it's taste will remain with for a long time. 
Profile Image for Rachna.
72 reviews27 followers
August 22, 2020
Latitudes of Longing, took me from the Andamans to Burma, from an earthquake to a tsunami, from a lady who talks to ghosts and trees to a man who loves her. Unfortunately, as the rugged geographical transition continued, I couldn't keep up to reach the last two chapters which take the readers to Nepal and the Karakoram mountains. Why? The writing was too rugged for me and the over usage of wayward flowery language in every second line, drained me. As much as I wanted to continue reading, the stories turned out to be more desolating, in a way which I figured was not my cup of tea to read. I am sure a lot of research must have gone into the book, but the want to cover too many issues made the read disorienting for me.
787 reviews126 followers
February 22, 2020
Thanks to Random House One World, via NetGalley, for this advance reader's copy in exchange for an honest review.

The settings of the Andaman Islands, Burma, Kathmandu, and the Karakoram Mountains immediately ticked off my boxes.  These four interlinked stories are beautifully written, richly imagined, and intricately plotted.  Overwhelmingly, the book has a mood that evokes faraway tales, deep emotions, warm recognition, and breathless awe. The first story, about 40% of the book, is the most affecting.  All four are completely wondrous in their intensity; the writing is dense with story, poetry and imagery.  The first is about a couple, a scientist (a geologist who contemplates Pangea) and his wife who sees ghosts and communicates with trees.  The second features their maid's son, a bright-eyed revolutionary. The third is about the son's friend, a smuggler with a heart of gold, and then the fourth tells of an 80-something year old man, who the smuggler meets, who can predict earthquakes, and who woos and falls in love with a 70 year old "witch."  In the four stories are more thought-provoking characters, stories within stories, adventure and reflection, and glimpses of mundane everyday life bursting with meaning or heart.

I surprised myself by re-reading the book.  I had not intended to.  I was only going to search for some information but soon found myself gladly reading the entirety of the book and just marveling at the author's craft.  I got to re-experience the ride and also discover details I'd glossed over initially.  And just as often, I saw how various pieces fit together or prepared the ground for the reading journey.  I sigh with this feeling, a sense that I could just as easily read it a third time now as I recount my first two times.

I would gladly read her future works...each and every one!

Several favorite quotes:

   Silence on a tropical island is the relentless sound of water. The waves, like your own breaths, never leave you...  

...Their world was a giant island held together by mammoth creepers, not gravity.

...Exposed claw-like roots crept upon the ground like pale pythons. He could feel them inch toward him and halt at his toes. Standing there, Girija Prasad felt like an ant, shuffling around, tempted by the impossible.

"Standing alone in the face of infinity, it's not your beliefs but what you have rejected that bothers you."

...Islands, intuitively speaking, made the perfect canvas for practicing the art of nomenclature. The heightened isolation would cause species to become endemic, sooner or later, demanding a unique name. The only exceptions to the rule were the British themselves. They had broken most laws of nature by leaving their island to multiply on others without losing any of their original characteristics--only their marbles.

...Sitting in this garden, watching a hibiscus sun set over an emerald-green archipelago, leaves the couple unsettled. It forces them to swim in the solitary world of thoughts, preoccupations, and visions. Yet it doesn't feel lonely.

   It is on this bombed-out speck that Chanda Devi confronts some of the palest ghosts of her life, waltzing unhindered through their daily rituals. Unlike the intrusive ghosts of Goodenough Bungalow, the ones here are too proud to acknowledge her presence, giving her the luxury of watching them, wide-eyed, for hours. It isn't the passage of time that they document but the exact opposite. They have practiced their routine for decades, defying events like death and India's independence. They have even learned to ignore the ghosts of the present--the living.

...It didn't matter if his eyes were open or closed, lucid visions rose before him. The constellations came swirling down from the absolute darkness of space into the twilit skies. The Poet witnessed the river of stars flood into the prison's passage, dissolving chains and fetters with its brilliance. He saw the constellations reimagine themselves to fit the emptiness within. The stars lived and breathed inside him. They replaced the cells within and without. For it was him they sought.

... He wanted to translate the Poet's work into English   
"Of what use are a dead man's poems to this world? the Poet asked.   
"None. Which is why I can translate them freely."

...Hidden among the cluck and hiss, the croak and chatter outside the window, are the songs of the extinct. The epic of evolution, told by bards long gone. Oh, to abandon the labyrinthine shell and shed old skin. To be naked and vulnerable. Free to swim, sprint, and fly without inhibition. To vanish without a trace only to reappear as a mating call, the way the sun sets in the west and rises in the east...Can their stories and songs be heard by the living? they wonder. Do they acknowledge their legacy in the fossils?

   Disbelief, turns out, is belief of its own kind. It is a river that flows against the overbearing currents of time and truth to make the opposite journey. It gathers all the mysteries of the ocean and returns them to the frozen origins. In the form of a glacier, it holds its head high up to look at god hiding behind the mists of heaven.

..."The world under water is an undocumented map of the world over water," he often tells her. "To solely inhabit the land limits our understanding. All terrains and forms of life, all the cycles of nature and emotions found on land, increase manifold in water."

...Fitted within her contours was a universe entirely different yet linked to his own. Her gaze wasn't otherworldly. It was the other world itself.

...life's biggest irony: What one considered past loves would prove to be life's longest affairs.

...All creation, he is tempted to extrapolate, is a form of self-discovery...

...The universe may have come to life with a bang, but the possibilities were conceived in silence....

...For a day spent on the choppy waters can easily turn into a lifetime traversing the faultline. No one, not even the cyclonic clouds and deep-sea currents, can escape its elemental pull.  There is a danger of slipping into the earth's cleft...

...The British and Japanese had left the islands. The Indian rulers had introduced something new to the archipelago. Something that had thrived for centuries on the mainland and symbolized the new republic in a way that even the tricolored flag couldn't.  Poverty   The islands were bursting with refugees from East Pakistan, from across the Bay of Bengal. More people were arriving every day.  Without a livelihood for them to rely on, and no colonial power or cyclone to blame, poverty grew unhindered like a weed.

...Though Thapa can pass off as a local in most places, it is here, in the land of his birth, that he feels like an outsider....

...After spending ten years in an Indian prison, Plato relishes the taste of fresh ginger. It is sharp, like the irony of being free in exile...

...That is the root of all the world's problems, my friend. But you cannot put yourself in someone else's shoes until you remove your own.

...It strikes him that reality is the worst story ever written. It lacks all rhythm; it has no respect for its characters. That is probably why we worship him, the blue-eyed one, a mortal who achieved divine status by helping people look beyond the ending.

  The world was created by an ancient woman who wove it all into existence. It was why everything--as small as fish scales, snakeskin, and the shapes on a butterfly's wing, and as gigantic as a chain of mountains and the path of rivers--fit a pattern. If humans considered something in nature anomalous or aberrational, it was because they lacked the vision to recognize the pattern.

...But now that forgetfulness has set in as a natural process, it hurts him. Back then, amnesia was a deliberate act of hope. Now it is a sign of life unraveling...
The woman speaks so softly, a breeze could fly off with her words, scattering them among the snow peaks of the Hindu Kush....

...Murmuring winds, shape-shifting sands, the pregnant silence of rocks, and the sea's ghost were all he had for company. Based on vibrations, Apo had learned to sense nature's fears and dreams and predict the onset of earthquakes....

...mountains and clouds, truth and visions, all are reflected alike on the skin of water. So are the past and the future. They are all attributes of the present, like the rumbling and the stillness you speak of. Water is an element full of possibilities. It is the present....

...The more the old man dreams of her, the further she feels from both wakefulness and sleep, left to wander aimlessly in the world of his dreams....
Profile Image for Aditi Jaiswal.
115 reviews146 followers
June 7, 2019
She dreamt of the strange inhabitants of different cosmic realms whose emotions are shone with exceptional clarity in the blurred longing. The place maybe be an Island or snow dessert but the muse of this novel is in its white pages with black ink that bears more beauty and magic than a human mind can fathom.

Truly the author is a gifted writer, her imagination carry us to the world we have never been and without it we go nowhere, I wouldn’t have experience colonial ghost if it was not Lord Goodenough, I wouldn’t have known how it feels to talk to ghosts and return to the place we love, in afterlife otherwise. I was less aware of how there can be so many people with different ideas of longing in different latitude yet they share the same magnitude of ardor, this is the power of this richly imaginative in its storytelling debut work of Shubhangi Swarup. I am in awe of her.

This is an interconnected story of many characters who will engross you in their day to day musing which might abruptly take a leap of some years but still it will be beautiful to live in these winsome and scintillating lyrical prose. A clairvoyant lady’s longing to her husband who studies trees will leave you longing for more, then you will find that respite in Apo and Ghazala. It will pass you through the vicissitudes of archipelago to the ending wars over glacier, binding them all together to a ghost of the past.

As ancient as some stories will feel, the longing will grow, it won’t die, it will give roots to lifetimes endured in hopelessly dejected enthusiasm of the Apo’s love for Ghazala, it will precede the unconditional acceptance.

Sometimes the plot will get dragged and you might find yourself unable to connect yet the lyrical prose will held your imagination with its seamless narrative with a sense of magic in her wonderful understanding of world around you. I will strongly recommend this book to everybody as it is a story close enough to admire yet out of grasp.
Profile Image for Mridula Gupta.
668 reviews172 followers
July 19, 2020
I have always been fond of places, their history, the stories that their people live to tell and Latitudes of Longing has made me crave to do that, the drop-everything-and-do-what-your-heart-wants sort of craving. So I guess the title is quite appropriate not just for the characters but also for the readers.

Latitudes of Longing has four interconnected stories, but each story takes place and symbolizes a particular topology. The stories are metaphorical, full of longing and covering almost every emotion known to mankind, especially hope and grief.

I loved the characters- the feel real and easily relatable. These characters have acclimatized to the terrain they live in and somehow their lives are intertwined to these lands intricately. Their idea of living in places other than these habitats is unimaginable and quite impossible- they wouldn’t survive, they don’t know how to.

The writing is the highlight of the book. Most of the times its engaging and gives us things to think about and reflect. A few times it gets monotonous, repetitive and quite messy. The author raises the bar very high with her first story that takes places in the Andaman Islands. The writing, plot, and characters are brilliant, the events are catchy and the journey feels painful yet bearable. As the terrain shifts to Burma (Faultline) and Thamel (valley), the plot gets a bit boring, without a direction. All is well again in the snow deserts of Changthang, where we meet Apo. The ending is certainly fabulous, giving the book the closure it deserves.

‘Latitudes of Longing’ is an almost poetic/lyrical tribute to lives that are dedicated to their motherland, lives that are intricately woven to the very soul of the land they live in and lives that are mere puppets of fate.
Profile Image for Sve.
528 reviews180 followers
April 15, 2022
Oтдавна не ми се беше случвало да си кажа ' Ох, най-сетне я свърших тази книга'. Разпокъсна, отвлечена, претенциозна в изказа си - ужасно ми дотежа. Няколко пъти заспивах докато се опитвах да свърша последните страници.
Profile Image for Ahtims.
1,469 reviews125 followers
April 6, 2021
It started impressive and I was quite sure it is my kind of book , the one which I usually give whole.5 stars to , and recommend right and left . But by 60 percent it deviated and almost morphed into an abstract, confusing tale.
I like a story well told in beautiful lyrical language. What I don't like is trying to involve as many issues of importance and deviate as much from the original thread so as to create an ameobic tale which puts forth its pseudopods in varying confusing directions.
First half 5 almost five stars
Next quarter 3 stars and
Last quarter 1.5 stars is my rating
Averaged to 3 stars .
I liked Girijaprasad and Chanda
I watched Devi grow up in the care of Mary
I tolerated Mary's tale and her son Plato
But when Platos tale morphed into Thappa
And continental shift occurred from Andaman to Bengal to Burma to Nepal to India / Pakistan border to Antarctica I lost interest and just mechanically read through
Profile Image for Farah Firdaus.
596 reviews210 followers
September 6, 2020
Richly imaginative and beautifully written, Latitudes of Longing follows the interconnected lives of characters in a long and laborious trudge in searching for a comfort of love and intimacy. With an unusual narrative that hovers between the past and the present, dreams and realities , the story propels the readers to ponder about human devastating relationship with nature.

Nature, being the force of this story, is acknowledged as the muse that inspires this book: “The muse of this novel is our unassuming planet, a being that bears more beauty, magic and resilience than this human mind can fathom.” Reading this feels like a visual treat. Each sentence is packed with colors, sounds, textures and it transported the readers across India; from an island, to a valley, a city and a snow desert.

But to be honest, I really struggled to get through this one and it took me an unusually long time to finish it. It can’t be denied that Shubhangi Swarup has an incredible talent with words. In fact, this book explodes with deep metaphor and beautiful symbolism that made me linger on it. However, it took a lot of effort for me to digest them and I feel like it wasn’t worth all the work thus lessening the enjoyment I felt when I was reading the book.

That being said, I still think this was a magnificient debut. If you are a fan of nature fiction and magical realism with non-linear plot and lyrical writing, do check this out.

Thank you Times Reads for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Ranjan.
141 reviews32 followers
March 31, 2022
लु चल्ने तराईमा होस्, सदाबहार रहने उपत्यकामा होस्, या चिसो हिम लहर चल्ने हिमाली भेगमा, प्रेम-पर्खाइ एकै नासो। भूगोल फरक भएपनि मुटुको बेदना-समवेदना एकै नासो। गिरिजा - चन्दा देवी, थापा - बागमती, प्लाटो - मेरी, अपो - घजाला बीचको आत्मीयता, तिर्सना, पर्खाइ र प्रेम एकै नासो। भारत - नेपाल - म्यानमार र नो म्यान्स ल्याण्डको कथा, Island/faultline/Valley/Snow desert लाई भूगोलले पन्छाए पनि आत्मियपन र प्रेमको तिर्सना एकै नासो।

The Latitudes may change but the longing remains the same❣️
Profile Image for Shirleynature.
200 reviews59 followers
May 19, 2020
My gratitude to author Shubhangi Swarup and Random House for sharing an advance review copy of the book. Enchanting, sentimental & mystical! This is a rewarding read for the patient reader who is looking for thoughtful Earth-bound magical realism.

Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup is place-based eco-fiction which emphasizes Earth’s powerful forces, especially earthquakes—in remote parts of India and more of south Asia following after India gained independence from the U.K in 1947. Relationships between eccentric and charismatic people and also human connections to nature are prominent in this novel of linked stories. At the opening of the book we meet the newly married Chanda Devi—who communicates not only with ghosts, but everything of the Earth and her husband Girija Prasad, a scientist. Reading of their romantic connections is as beguiling as watching flowers blossom in the best time-lapse video. Family and other characters with connections to this couple are featured as this book progresses. Also consistently throughout the natural world is a vibrant participant within the story.

Latitudes of Longing publishes in the U.S. on May 19 by Random House; when first published in India in 2018 this book won the Tata Literature Live! Award for Debut Fiction. As a journalist, author Shubhangi Swarup has also won awards for gender sensitivity in feature writing. She lives in Mumbai, India.

One of my favorite moments was (page 56) the mystery revealed of the "Path of Eternal Rain" does not take away from the magic!

A quote from page 287 of the advance reader's edition:
"If you reflect upon it, you will see connections and relationships illuminating the most disconnected things. Gravity defines time, space, and mortality. How can it not influence our inner state?"

I featured Latitudes of Longing and 2 more new debut novels with magical realism in this post:
Profile Image for Jason.
1,192 reviews111 followers
June 6, 2020
This is a beautiful book, it is an incredible debut that takes the reader on an exquisite journey through the physical world into what lies beyond.  It explores birth, love, nature, death and the afterlife, all focusing on a wonderful collection of characters.  You know you have a good book in your hands when you find yourself beaming at the pages and constantly thinking of it when real life gets in the way and you've got to put it down.

The thing that first drew me to this book was the cover, I love it when I find a cover that is a piece of art itself.  This looks like it has been drawn with a black biro and it has so many little bits that you find something new each time you look at it...in fact I have just looked again and seen a pair of orange eyes that I hadn't noticed before.

I loved how a lot of the story is open to the reader's interpretation and my opinion of the book's meaning is sure to differ from the next reader.  I'd tell you my theories but wouldn't want to alter your experience.  There is a huge cast of characters; there are those who have died and their spirit lingers watching those who are living and there are those yet to be born but with still a part to play.  By far my favourite was Apo, a wonderful old man truly in tune with nature, it was Apo and his wonderful tales where I got my breakthrough on what the book is about, it was an enlightening experience...a real mind-blown moment.

You've really got to give this book a read, it is a spiritual experience that is very rare to come across in a book.  It deserves to win many awards and I'll be spending my time recommending this to everybody.

Blog Review: https://felcherman.wordpress.com/2020...
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