I first read this in 2006, re-read now as it was my choice for my book group’s November read.
Maps for Lost Lovers is a stunningly brave and searingly brutal novel charting a year in the life of a working class community from the subcontinent–a group described by author Nadeem Aslam as “Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian and Sri Lankans living in a northern town”. The older residents, who have left their homelands for the riches of England, have communally dubbed it Dasht-e-Tanhaii, which roughly translates as “the wilderness of solitude” or “the desert of loneliness”. As the seasons change, from the first crystal flakes of snow that melt into “a monsoon raindrop”, we slowly learn the fate of Jugnu and Chanda, a couple whose disappearance is rumoured to have been a result of their fatal decision to live in sin in a community where the phrase holds true meaning.
I liked this novel just as much as I did the first time, although you can never recapture that first impact a wonderful novel has for you as a reader.
The opening sequence of the novel – Shamas standing in the doorway in the snow had stayed powerfully with me. This is a beautifully written novel, evocative and bravely honest. Some of the characters strain against their religious and cultural ties, others find strength in those traditional ways and beliefs.The stories of the people in this novel are generally sad, there is little reason to hope for the future (something I felt very much with Aslam’s third novel A Wasted Vigil too). Lives are restricted because of strict religious or moral codes, a fear of “what people will think/say” is constant. Kaukab counting on the fingers of one hand the number of white people she has spoken to. Her constant misunderstandings with her children, her life so desperately sad.
Nothing is an accident: it’s always someone’s fault; perhaps-but no one teaches us how to live with our mistakes. Everyone is isolated, alone with his or her anguish and guilt, and too penetrating a question can mean people are not able to face one another the next day.”
There is a feeling of tension throughout – the tension of a community where everyone knows who is who, and gossip is rife, and a life can be destroyed simply by been seen talking to someone in the street. This is a story of love in it’s many guises, of loss, bigotry and injustice.