Bim and Tara are completely opposite in their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the world, and each serves as a foil for the other’s lack of a critically reflexive self-image. The novel chronicles the sisters’ history of competition in a number of ways. Their childhood rivalry for adult attention is surpassed by each woman’s desire to earn Raja’s respect. For Tara, this means playing the role of a competent and gracious diplomat’s wife, wiping out the memory of an emotionally needy and naive child whose marriage conveniently unburdened her family. Bim, struggling to maintain her self-righteous dignity, counters Raja’s perceived emotional and economic betrayal with the only tools available to her. Remaining physically distant and refusing to communicate, Bim reaffirms herself through deliberate estrangement from Raja.
The characters of these two women are fully realized. Anita Desai’s skillful development of them meaningfully accounts for apparent incongruities, weaving them into an intense psychological drama. While the sisters’ deepest insecurities remain, for each other, unspoken, their internal disclosures of memory fill the void of understanding between them for the reader. The traumatic events signaling the children’s passage into adulthood is narrated from Bim’s point of view. Then, Tara recounts the symbolically laden events of early childhood (the unspeakable terror associated with the household well, in which the cow was...
(The entire section is 505 words.)