“The Earthspinner” by Anuradha Roy

Anuradha Roy (photo: Rukun Advani) Anuradha Roy (photo: Rukun Advani)

The themes of The Earthspinner are elemental, from passion’s fire to the destructive power of the monsoon. Fire, water, and of course, earth are at the core of Anuradha Roy’s novel. Shaped when wet and fired in a kiln, earth stands for the inexorable drive to human creativity. 


The wheel turns, I place a ball of clay on it, I cover the clay with both my hands, and if I close my eyes I have the planet spinning in my palms to the hum of a motor.


On the potter’s wheel, earth is pure potential. But once it takes a fixed form, it can all too easily shatter. The Earthspinner is about a shattering year and its long repercussions in the life of Sara. It opens and closes with Sara’s journal entries, written while she is studying English literature at a British university. The middle chapters take place earlier, in 1977, in and around Kummarapet, a village transforming into a suburb, once populated by caste-bound potters and still home to the potter Elango. At eleven-years-old, Sara is Elango’s pupil in the craft of clay, a passenger on his auto-rickshaw on her way to school, and the sometimes caretaker of his beloved dog.


The Earthspinner, Anuradha Roy (HarperVia, July 2022; ‎ Mountain Leopard, May 2022l Hachette India, September 2021
The Earthspinner, Anuradha Roy (HarperVia, July 2022; ‎ Mountain Leopard, May 2022; Hachette India, September 2021)

When Elango has a vision of a horse that wanders the ocean floor breathing fire, he knows he must craft its likeness in terracotta. The horse vision, which recalls stories of Shiva, whose passions once threatened to devour the universe, sets into motion an elemental drama full of forbidden love and sectarian strife. But the chain of events is equally provoked by a more terrestrial animal, the aforementioned dog. As Sara observes:


… more than my first pot, or anything else that took place in the world, what changed the configuration of earth-sun-sky in that year of unimaginable wonders and bloodcurdling horrors was the young dog that Elango found in a forest.


Elango’s dog Chinna is the most remarkably realized character in the book. While Elango’s dangerous love for Zohra, a Muslim woman, feels like a familiar, even clichéd, passion, his love for Chinna bursts with poignancy and authenticity.

Chinna inspires deep affections, but that does not stop him from being abandoned. He is witness to and sometimes survivor of all sorts of violence: a random carjacking, a thoughtless kick, a deranged mob. The endless cruelties unleashed by human hands seem all the more senseless from the point of view of a dog, and love too brings its own cruelties.

In the timeline of Sara’s journal entries, it is an American poet, Emily Dickinson, who is quoted at a moment of high tension, as grief, memory, obligation, and sexual awakening roil beneath the surface of a quiet conversation. In “I started Early – Took my Dog”, the poet goes down to the sea, where she encounters and is nearly engulfed by a sexualized personification of the tide. What Dickinson doesn’t relate, but Roy does, is what happened, after all was said and done, to the dog.

Elizabeth Lawrence is Assistant Professor of History at Augustana College.