Desai, Anita (Vol. 175)
Anita Desai 1937-
Indian novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, and children's writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Desai's career through 2002. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 19 and 97.
Best known for her studies of Indian life, Desai has written exclusively in English since she debuted in the mid-1960s. Throughout her novels and short stories, Desai focuses on the personal struggles of Anglicized, middle-class women in contemporary India as they attempt to overcome the societal limitations imposed by a tradition-bound patriarchal culture. Set amid the cultural and social changes that have swept India since its independence from Britain in 1947, most of Desai's narratives validate the importance of familial bonds and explore the tensions that exist between different generations. In her later works, Desai has addressed such themes as German anti-Semitism, the dissolution of traditional Indian values, and Western stereotypes of India. As a contemporary Indian female author, Desai has been identified with a new literary tradition of Indian writing in English, which is stylistically different and less conservative than colonial Indian literature and concerns such issues as hybridity, shifting identity, and “imaginary homelands,” a phrase coined by Indian novelist Salman Rushdie.
Desai was born on June 24, 1937, at Mussoorie, a hill station north of Delhi, India, to D. N. Mazumdar, a Bengali business executive, and Toni Nime, a German expatriate. As a child, Desai spoke German at home and Hindi among her friends. At primary school, she learned to read and write English—which eventually became her literary language—publishing her first short story at the age of nine. Despite the somewhat limited opportunities for women in Indian society, Desai attended Queen Mary's Higher Secondary School in New Delhi before enrolling at Miranda House, Delhi University, where she earned a bachelor's degree with honors in English literature in 1957. In December of 1958, she married Ashrin Desai, with whom she has four children. Although she regularly wrote short stories since adolescence, Desai officially launched her career as a novelist in 1963 with the British publication of Cry, the Peacock, which was subsequently followed by Voices in the City (1965) and Bye-Bye, Blackbird (1968). In the late 1970s, Desai published the critically acclaimed novel Fire on the Mountain (1977), which won the National Academy of Letters Award, and Games at Twilight and Other Stories (1978), her first short story collection. During the 1980s, Desai enhanced her reputation with the novels Clear Light of Day (1980) and In Custody (1984), both of which were short-listed for the Booker Prize, England' s highest literary award. Desai later adapted In Custody as a screenplay, which Ismail Merchant and James Ivory produced as a motion picture in 1993. In 1982 Desai published the children's work Village by the Sea: An Indian Family Story, which won the Guardian Award for Children's Fiction. In 1990 she received the Padma Shri, India's highest artistic honor. A member of both the Advisory Board for English in New Delhi and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Desai has also taught writing at several universities, including Girton College at Cambridge University, Smith College, and Mt. Holyoke College. In 1993 she joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a creative writing instructor, teaching one semester each year and returning to India for the remainder. Desai has since published the novels Journey to Ithaca (1995) and Fasting, Feasting (1999), which brought her a third nomination for the Booker Prize, and Diamond Dust: Stories (2000), her second short story collection.
Most of Desai's works engage the complexities of modern Indian culture from a feminine perspective while highlighting the female Indian predicament of maintaining self-identity as an individual woman. Cry, the Peacock, Desai's first novel, chronicles the morbid dread, descent into madness, and suicide of Maya, a young Delhi housewife who is trapped in a loveless, arranged marriage to the much older Gautama, a misogynistic lawyer. The novel foreshadows several of the major recurring themes in Desai's works—the problems of independence and communication, the influence of the West, and the tensions between religious and domestic interaction. Set in the late 1950s, Voices in the City depicts Indian society still in transition more than a decade after India's independence from British rule. The novel is broken into four sections—the first three are named after a trio of young adult siblings from a Himalayan village who, separately and for different reasons, have moved to Calcutta. As the narrative follows each sibling individually, Desai illuminates the myriad ways that their respective social class defines their self-identities. In Bye-Bye, Blackbird, her first novelistic foray into a country beyond India, Desai portrays the intense xenophobia and prejudice that manifested in England during the influx of commonwealth immigration in the 1950s and 1960s. The novel opens with Dev, a young man from Calcutta, arriving in England to attend the London School of Economics. He eventually moves in with two old friends, Adit and Sarah, an Indian-English interracial couple. As Dev becomes enamoured with the English way of life, Adit becomes more and more nostalgic for his family's home in India. As in Cry, the Peacock, Where Shall We Go This Summer? (1975) centers around a desperate wife looking to escape her marriage. The plot follows Sita, a housewife in her early forties, as she arrives on the rustic island of Manori after a twenty-year absence. She has brought along two of her four children, having abandoned the others with her businessman-husband in their home in Bombay. In the third trimester of yet another pregnancy and convinced that the world is hopelessly marred by cruelty and violence, Sita has returned to the island because she believes that it possesses magical powers which can safely terminate her pregnancy.
In Fire on the Mountain, Desai explores the effectiveness of escapism as a coping mechanism. After a lifetime of dutiful servitude to her family, elderly matriarch Nanda Kaul purchases a house in the isolated hill country of Kasuli and lives out her days in peaceful seclusion. Nanda's tranquility is disturbed, however, after her great-granddaughter Raka arrives on her doorstep, having been forced out of her home by her parents' marital problems. The novel shows the clash of generations between Raka and Nanda, the division of classes between Nanda's isolated hill community and the nearby village, and the conflict between the educational programs sponsored by the central government and the traditions of the local villagers. The collection Games at Twilight consists of eleven short stories that describe events from the everyday life of various members of the Indian middle class. Set against the historical backdrop of Delhi before the Partition of 1947, Clear Light of Day recounts the saga of the Das family, a Hindu clan from Old Delhi. The main characters are three of the four Das siblings: Bim, who is unmarried and teaches history at a women's college; her younger sister, Tara, who lives in America with her diplomat husband, Bakul, and their two teenage daughters; and their elder brother, Raja, who has given up his aspiration to become a poet and lives as a rich, fat businessman in Hyderabad with his Muslim-heiress wife, Benazir, and their five children. The story begins with Tara's visit to the now run-down family homestead in a suburb of Old Delhi, where Bim continues to live and to take care of their autistic younger brother, Baba. Tara has come to India to attend the wedding of Raja's eldest daughter, an event that Bim is boycotting, having long been estranged from her once beloved brother. A novella for young people, The Village by the Sea tells the story of a family beset by misfortune in the traditional fishing village of Thul, on the west coast of India near Bombay. With the mother ill and bedridden and the father an unemployed, abusive alcoholic, the brunt of the family responsibilities devolve upon the elder children, the adolescents Lila and Hari, both of whom have stopped attending school in order to fulfill these duties and care for their two younger siblings.
Since the mid-1980s, Desai has shown a definite shift in her narrative voice, favoring dialogue over interior monologue and focusing on underprivileged characters rather than her usually bourgeois protagonists. In Custody revolves around Deven Sharma, a middle-aged man who once dreamt of becoming a poet but who was forced to take a job teaching Hindi in order to support his wife and child. A sharply incisive social comedy, In Custody dramatizes the tensions between worldly and spiritual concerns through Deven's almost-obsessive attempts to interview Nur, the greatest living Urdu poet. Based on Desai's own Eurasian heritage but narrated from a male perspective, Baumgartner's Bombay (1988) concerns themes of alterity and hybridity. The novel—Desai's first to feature a non-Indian protagonist—recounts the tragic life and violent death of Hugo Baumgartner, a Jew who has emigrated to India in the late 1930s from Nazi Germany. The story opens with Hugo's murder and the ensuing chapters alternate between scenes of his last hours and flashbacks that take us chronologically through his life. The first half of Desai's next novel Journey to Ithaca focuses on Matteo, an idealistic Italian, and his temperamental girlfriend, Sophie, a hard-bitten realist German. The countercultural pair marry in 1975 and immediately set off for India, chiefly in pursuit of Matteo's dream of enlightenment, which has been inspired by his reading of Hermann Hesse's Journey to the East. They eventually arrive at an ashram in northern India that is led by a charismatic, elderly woman who calls herself the “Mother.” Although Sophie remains unimpressed by the “Mother,” Matteo is enthralled by what he finds to be the spiritually edifying environment, and they remain for several years, during which time they have two children. Most of the novel's second half consists of Sophie's retracing of the “Mother's” life, which is presented in the form of flashbacks to the early 1920s. Fasting, Feasting relates the disastrous attempts of an Indian daughter to leave her parents' home and achieve independence without marriage. Her parents, referred to as the indivisible unit MamaPapa, barely notice their daughter's aspirations as they lavish all of their attention on their only son. The short story collection Diamond Dust features a selection of tales set in North America and India—although Indian characters and concerns figure in all of them—illuminating Desai's thematic preoccupation with the psychological effects of multiculturalism.
Although Desai has not been widely read in her native country—mainly at Indian universities—Western audiences have warmly received her fiction largely due to its unique insights on the often neglected aspects of Indian culture. Most critics have attributed these circumstances to Desai's own dual ancestry as well as her preference for the concerns of Westernized, middle-class characters rather than those facing the majority of Indians. Many reviewers have praised her intellectual rigor and vivid portrayals of India, particularly her insistence on the multicultural dimension of contemporary Indian society. Although some commentators have charged that Desai's fiction depends too heavily on the mundane and trivial, others have defended her attention to detail, arguing that this feature breathes life into her fiction and contributes to its often humorous tone. Critics have equally extolled Desai's short stories, tracing the thematic similarities between her short fiction and novels. However, several reviewers have asserted that Desai's later stories set outside of India are inherently stronger, faulting Desai's skewed perspective on more recent developments in Indian society and noting her inappropriate use of Indian idiom. Postcolonial literary scholars have focused on Desai's use of Indian settings in the majority of her works, contending that colonial appropriation of Indian cultural values remains an obstacle for postcolonial writers. Others have explored the effects of English culture on the subjectivities of Desai's urban Indian middle-class characters, suggesting that the unspoken gendered and imperialist premises of colonial culture inhibit the potential growth and artistic expression of the formerly colonized. Feminist critics have assessed the psychological development of Desai's female characters in terms of the patriarchal Indian family structure while evaluating Desai's representation of the Indian feminine within the context of other Indian literature written by women. Although most of these critics have praised the complexity of the family relationships depicted in Desai's novels, several have objected to their resolutions as either too simplistic or perpetuating patriarchal values.
Cry, the Peacock (novel) 1963
Voices in the City (novel) 1965
Bye-Bye, Blackbird (novel) 1968
The Peacock Garden [illustrations by Jeroo Roy] (juvenilia) 1974
Where Shall We Go This Summer? (novel) 1975
Fire on the Mountain (novel) 1977
Games at Twilight and Other Stories (short stories) 1978
Clear Light of Day (novel) 1980
Village by the Sea: An Indian Family Story (juvenilia) 1982
In Custody (novel) 1984
Baumgartner's Bombay (novel) 1988
In Custody [with Shahrukh Husain] (screenplay) 1993
Journey to Ithaca (novel) 1995
Fasting, Feasting (novel) 1999
Diamond Dust: Stories (short stories) 2000; also published as Diamond Dust and Other Stories, 2000
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SOURCE: Jena, Seema. “Characterization in the Works of Anita Desai.” In Voice and Vision of Anita Desai, pp. 16-34. New Delhi, India: Ashish Publishing, 1989.
[In the following essay, Jena surveys Desai's early novels, highlighting the mental development of the female characters in terms of the patriarchal Indian family structure.]
One of the chief delights of fiction is the satisfaction of our desire to know about man as he is himself, and in relation to his society. A novelist should, therefore, carve man's image in his art with an social awareness and insight into life. The Indo-Anglican novelist generally writes in the classical tradition and seeks to project an integrated view of man's identity, his place in society and the social values, there within which he works out his destiny. Anita Desai is an exception, that instead of presenting man in conflict with the society, she rather wishes to keep her focus on man in conflict with his mind. Her forte is the exploration of the human psyche. The social concern is present in the form of cultural polarisation, conflict between traditional values and westernised ideas, but they are organised to highlight the mental development of the characters. She is gifted with a style and a sensibility to suit her aesthetic goal of delineating her central subject of a world weary character fighting and struggling to be free from the nets laid by society, in which...
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SOURCE: Parikh, Bharati A. “Heroines of Toni Morrison and Anita Desai: A Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Indian Journal of American Studies 23, no. 2 (summer 1993): 17-25.
[In the following essay, Parikh compares the treatment of female relationships in Toni Morrison's fiction with that in Desai's novels, emphasizing the alienation experienced by the characters in their respective cultures.]
What makes a writer memorable, wonderful teller of stories, passionately in love with her people, creating unforgettable heroines and heroes and making them breathe? The answer is Toni Morrison and her world peopled with young black girls, adolescent Sula and Nel, Pecola Breedlove and Milkman, alias Macon Dead Jr.
The overwhelming power of the writer as a teller of stories is wonderfully felt in all the novels of Morrison. What strikes one in Morrison's world is her depiction of relationships between women. No major writer has dealt with this theme. Here Morrison feels that:
Relationships between women were always written about as though they were subordinate to some other roles they're playing. This is not true of men.
Hence the hierarchy created by patriarchal society crumbles to a certain extent in Morrison. And women are at the centrestage.
This can also be said of the...
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SOURCE: Brush, Pippa. “German, Jew, Foreigner: The Immigrant Experience in Anita Desai's Baumgartner's Bombay.” Critical Survey 8, no. 3 (1996): 277-85.
[In the following essay, Brush examines Desai's articulation of the largely neglected European emigrant to India in Baumgartner's Bombay, emphasizing the multiple marginalization of the protagonist's character.]
In her essay, ‘Writing the Immigrant Self: Disguise and Damnation,’ Canadian critic Aritha van Herk identifies the various stories which are often told in the literature of immigrants: ‘There is first of all the overt story. Then there is the much more complex and multi-foliate covert story’ (van Herk, p. 177), which she also refers to as the ‘story under the story’ (van Herk, p. 175). The overt story of European immigration into India has been told many times, in numerous novels about the British presence in India, articulating what van Herk identifies as the ‘tempting illusion’ (van Herk, p. 178) of the overt story. What Anita Desai does in Baumgartner's Bombay is to take the covert, predominantly untold experience of European immigration into India, and articulate that through the experience of a German Jew, Hugo Baumgartner. She gives a voice to an aspect of the experience of European immigration into India which has generally been effaced, ignored, and excluded from official...
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SOURCE: Salgado, Minoli. “When Seeing Is Not Believing: Epiphany in Anita Desai's Games at Twilight.” Journal of Modern Literature 20, no. 1 (summer 1996): 103-08.
[In the following essay, Salgado analyzes the ways the individual stories of Games at Twilight question not only the concept of epiphany but also the potential for spiritual awareness in general, suggesting that Desai treats this culturally transcendent phenomenon within a culturally specific context.]
Epiphany is a central concept in short story criticism. Defined by James Joyce as a “sudden spiritual manifestation,”1 the idea of epiphany seems to be implicitly accepted by a range of critics as one of the key elements structuring the short story. Mary Pratt, for example, claims that “the moment of truth stands as the model for the short story, the way of life stands as a model for the novel,”2 suggesting that the revelatory nature of epiphany is somehow supported by the short story form and that it serves as a principle of composition for the writer. This view is qualified by Nadine Gordimer, who argues that “a discrete moment of truth is aimed at—not the moment of truth, because the short story doesn't deal in cumulatives.”3 Yet we may question whether the short story is indeed the vehicle of epiphanic moments or if it might instead be the instrument for its subversion....
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SOURCE: Mohan, Rajeswari. “The Forked Tongue of Lyric in Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 32, no. 1 (1997): 47-66.
[In the following essay, Mohan explores the effects of English literary studies on the subjectivities of the postcolonial urban Indian middle class in Desai's works, suggesting that the unspoken gendered and imperialist premises of colonial culture limit the potential and aesthetic growth of the colonized.]
Over the last few years, ambivalence has emerged as the paradigmatic stance of postcolonial theory. While this might be attributed to the ascendancy of poststructuralist theory in academic discourses, from a materialist point of view one might argue that this ambivalence is symptomatic of the problem that decolonization is more than the physical displacement of the colonizer, itself not a tidy and punctual process. Colonization forces a fundamental rearticulation of culture and reconfiguration of social priorities. As a result, liberation struggles, after winning political independence, get re-directed at decolonizing the mind, in Ngugi wa Thiong'o's memorable phrase, resisting the blandishments of the emergent neo-colonial world order, and working towards a revitalization of national cultures. So it is that Ngugi has suggested recently that “the complexity of postcolonial politics and culture … cannot be properly understood outside the...
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SOURCE: Parameswaran, Uma. Review of Journey to Ithaca, by Anita Desai. World Literature Today 71, no. 1 (winter 1997): 221.
[In the following review, Parameswaran praises the complexity of the human relationships in Journey to Ithaca but finds their resolutions “too simplistic.”]
Over a span of two decades and ten novels, Anita Desai has built up a solid repertoire and a reputation for sensitive insights into human behavior and finesse of language appropriate for expressing them. Journey to Ithaca is a story of the European “flower children” of the 1960s and 1970s who flocked to India and Nepal in search of a kind of spirituality that their lives seemed to lack. Armed with idealism, they reached out to the gold at the end of the rainbow. But their journey took them through the phase of substance abuse—as we now euphemistically call it—and many never came out of that phase. A few went on to find a “guru,” and some wrote songs that set their generation ablaze with another wave of idealism that was more often than not as misplaced as the first beatnik wave.
Journey to Ithaca is the story of a young Italian, Matteo, who leaves his aristocratic European home, armed with Hesse's Journey to the East and ideals of free love and free spirit, fed by his English tutor. His equally ideal-inspired wife Sophie comes to a point when she wants to...
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SOURCE: Smith, Katharine Capshaw. “Narrating History: The Reality of the Internment Camps in Anita Desai's Baumgartner's Bombay.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 28, no. 2 (April 1997): 141-57.
[In the following essay, Smith contrasts the experiences of the imprisoned protagonist of Baumgartner's Bombay with the similar autobiographical account of Heinrich Harrar in Seven Years in Tibet, demonstrating not only the historical veracity of Desai's representation but also its effects on the development of Baumgartner's conflicted character.]
Baumgartner's Bombay is a text deeply concerned with intrusion of history into an individual's interior life. Desai weaves Hugo Baumgartner's experience of Kristallnacht and pre-Holocaust Germany with descriptions of India's partition riots in order to create a realistic—and historical—image of “[t]he clash between the inner and the outer [worlds]” of Baumgartner's sensibility (Desai, Interview 166). Much critical study of the novel focuses on discovering the foundations for its events and perspective in Desai's German lineage and multicultural background.1 Moreover, such critical attention mirrors the novel's narrative structure, for just as Lotte attempts to piece together the fragments of Baumgartner's postcards in order to imagine his life story,2 scholars seek further resonances...
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SOURCE: da Silva, Tony Simoes. “Whose Bombay Is It Anyway?: Anita Desai's Baumgartner's Bombay.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 28, no. 3 (July 1997): 63-77.
[In the following essay, da Silva focuses on the use of an Indian setting in Baumgartner's Bombay to represent the protagonist's existential crisis, contending that colonial appropriation of Indian cultural values persists in the postcolonial novel.]
The American anthropologist Clifford Geertz has long been associated with a shift in the discipline of anthropology that stresses its own arbitrary nature and argues instead for a more modest approach, seeking “what generality it can by orchestrating contrasts rather than isolating regularities or abstracting types” (Local Knowledge 13). In a particularly felicitous turn of phrase, Geertz elsewhere writes of the anthropologist's job being akin to “strain[ing] to read over the shoulder of those to whom they properly belong … [the] ensemble of texts” which constitute their cultural self (Interpretations 452-53). This is a description of the anthropologist's craft which at once evokes a sense of childish innocence and a potentially less benign tendency to stick one's beak where it is not wanted. In stark contrast with that other, more conventional civilizing quest for the erasure of alterity, Geertz's view of anthropology speaks then of a...
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SOURCE: Annan, Gabriele. “Sugar-Sticky.” London Review of Books 21, no. 11 (27 May 1999): 35.
[In the following review, Annan discusses Fasting, Feasting within the context of contemporary Anglo-Indian literature, focusing on its characterization and themes.]
When Tim Parks reviewed Salman Rushdie's latest novel, The Ground beneath Her Feet, in the New York Review of Books he grumbled ‘that the sheer quantity of events that crowd these 575 pages is such as to overwhelm any depiction of inner life or any mind's attempt to grasp the half of them.’ By the end of his piece he is thoroughly exasperated: ‘By making the double gesture of appearing clear-sighted and then filling his pages with supernatural incident and metaphysical muddle that could mean anything or nothing, Rushdie, and many like him [my italics], play to those who, while understandably unwilling to subscribe to any belief so well defined as to be easily knocked down, nevertheless yearn to have all the mystical balls kept perpetually spinning in the air before them. Closet New Agers will be thrilled. The potential readership is huge.’ So boo squish to Vikram Chandra too, and a reprimand even for Vikram Seth, who doesn't go in for mystical mythography, it is true, but might be accused of narrative plethora; he certainly fits in with the idea of fiction held by Rushdie's naive hero: ‘I always thought...
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SOURCE: Chew, Shirley. “Acting as Sita Did.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5017 (28 May 1999): 23.
[In the following review, Chew assesses the familial subject matter of Fasting, Feasting, implicating the text in the perpetuation of patriarchal society.]
In an article in the TLS of September 14, 1990, entitled “A Secret Connivance,”; commenting on the general oppressiveness of women's lives in India, Anita Desai noted that “Even if in reality [a woman] is nothing but a common drudge, first in her father's house and then her husband's,” she must, bearing in mind accepted role models, conduct herself “as Sita did, as Draupadi did.” While this is a situation created by men to serve their own purposes, it is, Desai recognizes, a form of imprisonment at which women have connived. Believing that one of the purposes of literature is to show us “the plain face of truth,” she returns again and again in her fiction to the subject of the family, the role it plays in perpetuating a patriarchal society and the way it can blight the lives of its members, both women and men. Undeceived, unsparing, yet tender and funny, Desai's new novel, Fasting, Feasting, takes another look at the subject; the two parts of its narrative move from “the family,” as it is known to Arun and his sisters, Uma and Aruna, in their provincial town in the Gangetic plains, to the “plastic...
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SOURCE: Aldama, Frederick Luis. Review of Fasting, Feasting, by Anita Desai. World Literature Today 74, no. 1 (winter 2000): 240.
[In the following review, Aldama outlines the plot of Fasting, Feasting, suggesting that the change of settings for the novel' s conclusion compromises the integrity of the narrative.]
Anita Desai's novels typically gravitate around women (mostly middle-class South Asians) who come of age in the sweltering clime of India's outback and within households heavy with patriarchal oppression. In her new novel, Fasting, Feasting, the protagonist Uma, much like Desai's earlier characters Nanda Kaul in Fire on the Mountain (1977) and Bimla in Clear Light of Day (1980), dares to dream of a life beyond her estate's closed gates. Unfortunately, also like her predecessors, Uma finds that her desires—“A career. Leaving home. Living alone”—meet with unscalable walls at every turn.
Deep in the Gangetic plains, Uma grows up with her younger brother Arun and sister Aruna. Through a series of coming-of-age snapshots, Uma comes into focus. We watch, for example, as she is forced to drop out of Catholic school so as to better serve her brother and father. When Uma grows up, we see her filled with angst as “MamaPapa” (her father's tyrannical personality envelops her mother's) try to pimp her out to a variety of well-to-do men....
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SOURCE: Curtis, Sarah. “Aunts and Daughters.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5069 (26 May 2000): 21.
[In the following review, Curtis compares the themes and characters of Diamond Dust to other works by Desai.]
With her customary quiet confidence, Anita Desai establishes her territory in the opening paragraph, sometimes in the opening sentence, of each of the nine stories in [Diamond Dust]. From the start of “Royalty,” we know not just that the Indian household is off to the hills to escape the summer heat of Delhi but that they are rich and Oxford-educated: not only have so many of their clothes been packed away but so have their books and papers. In the next story, “Winterscape,” a young woman with a baby in her arms is standing in front of a refrigerator looking at some photographs. Immediately we sense this story is set in a land of green lawns and new cars, not serviced by the dusty old Ambassadors with which Desai often evokes India. “‘That dog will kill me, kill me one day!’ Mrs Das moaned,” is the first sentence of the title story, “Diamond Dust.” It is a good enough summary of the plot, though the victim is different.
Desai's style does not change. She continues to pile up the sensuous descriptive details as background, while retaining an almost icy lucidity in her narrative of plot. The first of her three novels to be shortlisted for the...
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SOURCE: Narayan, Shyamala A. Review of Diamond Dust: Stories, by Anita Desai. World Literature Today 75, no. 1 (winter 2001): 104-05.
[In the following review, Narayan prefers the stories set abroad in Diamond Dust to those set in India, objecting to the latter's discomfiting perspective on contemporary Indian society and inappropriate use of Indian idiom.]
Author of ten novels, including Fasting, Feasting (1999; see WLT 74:1, p. 240), which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Anita Desai is also a short-story writer. The stories in Diamond Dust, her second collection, are quite different from those in Games at Twilight and Other Stories (1978), her first collection. The earlier stories were set entirely in India, but three of the nine stories here are about life in the USA, while one is set in Mexico. The stories set abroad are better than the Indian ones. “Underground” is an unusual love story: the husband finds himself unable to welcome guests to his hotel after the death of his wife; instead, he spends his evenings feeding a family of badgers. A young schoolgirl finds her illusions about artists shattered when she observes the plight of the tenant living on their property.
The last two decades have witnessed the growth of a new category of Indian English writing, one which could be called “N.R.I.” (the non-resident Indian as...
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SOURCE: Gerster, Robin. “Geographies of the Imagination.” Lancet 359, no. 9301 (12 January 2002): 178.
[In the following review, Gerster praises the themes, style, and settings of Diamond Dust.]
English-language writers from Commonwealth countries tend to be lumbered with the role of “representative” of their country of origin. Thus India's Anita Desai is usually dubbed an Indian writer. This is not necessarily a limiting description, but it is a prescriptive label that inspires those cliches beloved by western commentators on Asian writers—a “clash of cultures,” “East meets West,” and so on. Of course, the westernisation of India and the cultural consequences of the Indian diaspora is one of Desai's major fictional interests. But the map of her fiction is more than merely sociological. Desai's is a geography of the mind and the emotions, an intimate register of that most basic form of politics, those of familial relationships. Her “Indianness,” while essential, is also to some extent beside the point.
Diamond Dust and Other Stories, a collection of nine new stories, again reveals the breadth of Desai's vision, her characteristic psychological penetration, and her sense of humour. Her range is impressive in all sorts of ways. As if to proclaim her global sensibility, her settings include India, the UK, Canada, the USA, and Mexico. While certain themes recur...
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SOURCE: Lacom, Cindy. “Revisiting the Subject: Disability as ‘Third Dimension’ in Clear Light of Day and You Have Come Back.” NWSA Journal 14, no. 3 (fall 2002): 138-54.
[In the following essay, Lacom examines the social contexts and ideologies of disabled characters in Clear Light of Day and Fatima Gallaire-Bourega's You Have Come Back, demonstrating the relationship between postcolonial and feminist studies and disabled persons.]
When considering the work of post-colonial scholars, it becomes apparent that missing from the list of the oppressed and marginalized are those who are doubly colonized with physical and mental disabilities. If, as Frantz Fanon has argued, Othering occurs on the basis of physical and verbal difference, then that colonized subject who is Other in terms of body and voice is made doubly Other by means of her disability. In this paper, I examine the social framing and ideological work of disabled characters in two texts, Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day and Fatima Gallaire-Bourega's You Have Come Back. Using these texts' main characters—Baba, who is autistic (Desai), and the Madwoman and the Cripple (Gallaire-Bourega)—I argue that the incorporation of a disability studies perspective in post-colonial and feminist critiques can enrich our understanding of the dialectic between colonizer and colonized and refigure our...
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Chakravarty, Radha. “Figuring the Maternal: ‘Freedom’ and ‘Responsibility’ in Anita Desai's Novels.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 29, no. 2 (April 1998): 75-92.
Chakravarty examines the maternal tropes of Where Shall We Go This Summer?, Clear Light of Day, and Journey to Ithaca in terms of the novels's thematic concerns with the relationship between freedom and responsibility.
Choudhury, Bidulata. “Anita Desai: The Growth and Development of the Artist.” In Women and Society in the Novels of Anita Desai, pp. 37-53. New Delhi, India: Creative Books, 1995.
Choudhury provides an overview of Desai's life and career, tracing thematic similarities between Desai's short stories and novels.
Desai, Anita, and Olga Kenyon. “Anita Desai.” In The Writer's Imagination, pp. 35-43. West Yorkshire, UK: University of Bradford, 1992.
Desai discusses the influence of English language on Indian literature, the Indian feminist movement, Indian literacy, and the relevance of multiculturalism in contemporary Indian society.
Harrison, Kathryn. “When Karmas Clash.” Washington Post Book World (17 September 1995): 11.
Harrison outlines the plot of Journey to Ithaca, alluding to the spiritual and ethical...
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