Review: “Latitudes of Longing” leaves the readers with a new set of eyes to look at the world

A Literary Debut of the Year, Latitudes of Longing, weaves multiple lives together and leaves you feeling content. A book is written in the good old way, no tricks, no mystery, no drama and still all of it together. The first line of the book itself tells you that you need to pay attention. It starts with, “Silence on a tropical island is the relentless sound of water.”

The author has divided the book into four parts that make a full circle at the end. It’s hard to guess how it will all connect but it does. You don’t have to chase the story for it comes to easily and provides the comfort to sort through the narrative and do it in your time. The description leaves less to the imagination and has you dreaming about the tropical forests of Andaman in no time. Chanda Devi sweeps you off your feet and lands you carefully in the lap of Mary, letting you flow with Thapa and rest in the snow desert with Appo.

In the first part, ‘Islands’ we get a glimpse in the life of Girija Prasad, an Oxford-educated officer at Indian Forest Service of the newly independent India and his wife Chanda Devi, the clairvoyant who can talk to the trees, ghosts and the life around her. He takes Chanda on trips around the island and with her, the readers. The description is mesmerizing. There’s a history of the islands, the tribes and some supernaturals who are bound to their habits even after death. It’s all so disconnected that you feel connected deep within.

Chanda Devi leaves a daughter behind and a Karen girl, Mary to look after her. When a word arrives for Mary from Burma about her son, Plato, whom she had to abandon, she sails to the home and her son she’s never known.
In Faultline, we meet Plato, and the hear the story of Mary. Thapa, a Nepali smuggler and Plato’s friend, keeps Mary company while she waits for her son. Mary tugs at your heart and takes you on a rollercoaster ride. Plato forced to live in solitary confinement, dreams about the life that could have been if his mother hadn’t abandoned him? The story here gets a little political. You feel as if the author has lost direction, but she guides you right back to it with Thapa.

In Valleys, we learn why Thapa is the way he is and his story. He meets a bar dancer, Bebo, who is young enough to be his daughter. He gives her hope and starts on his journey to India, after meeting Plato. On his way, he is cheated by novices and lands in the valley that belongs neither to India nor to Pakistan. Here, he stays with Appo, the eldest in the valley.
In Snow Desert, we learn the secrets of Drakpo Tribe that survives in a valley inhabitable for humans. Appo ends up falling for Ghazala, a Kashmiri widow living with her grandson.
It feels heavy at times and too much to take in. At the same time, it makes you wonder how anyone can craft such a narrative and put it all together. Don’t let the heavy vocabulary bring you down, take your time, it’s worth it.