The Artist of Disappearance

Anita Desai. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23 (176p) ISBN 978-0-547-57745-6
Desai’s unsettling collection of novellas explores the slow, threatening creep of outside influence into closed communities. In “The Museum of Final Journeys,” an isolated bureaucrat is confronted with a “chamber of death,” a remote, bizarre museum full of embalmed, stuffed animals. “Translator Translated” obliquely explores colonial politics when Prema, a professor specializing in Suvarna Devi, an obscure writer writing in Oriya, Prema’s native language, befriends a glamorous former classmate by offering to translate Devi’s work into English. But by doing so, she comes under fire for not only bringing the text into the language of the colonizers but also for crippling the writer’s work. The elliptical titular story explores the origins of a hermetic man, the last of an unhappy family. The man wants nothing to do with the outside world, but has an ornate garden a trio of students want to film. As the landscape resists them, so the students come to resent each other’s demands and wish to forget the disrespect they’ve visited upon the reclusive inhabitants. Desai (Village by the Sea) treads lightly, at times too lightly, but at its best this collection leaves an indelible impression of the conflicts and ambitions found in a region riddled with conflict. (Dec. 6)
Reviewed on: 09/12/2011
Release date: 12/01/2011
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