Fasting, Feasting

Anita Desai, Author Mariner Books $13.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-618-06582-0
Short-listed for the 1999 Booker Prize, Desai's stunning new novel (after Journey to Ithaca) looks gently but without sentimentality at an Indian family that, despite Western influence, is bound by Eastern traditions. As Desai's title implies, the novel is divided into two parts. At the heart of Part One, set in India, is Uma, the eldest of three children, the overprotected daughter who finds herself starved for a life. Plain, myopic and perhaps dim, Uma gives up school and marriage, finding herself in her 40s looking after her demanding if well-meaning parents. Uma's younger, prettier sister marries quickly to escape the same fate, but seems dissatisfied. Although the family is ""quite capable of putting on a progressive, Westernized front,"" it's clear that privileges are still reserved for boys. When her brother, Arun, is born, Uma is expected to abandon her education at the convent school to take care of him. It is Arun, the ostensibly privileged son, smothered by his father's expectations, who is the focus of the second part of the novel. The summer after his freshman year at the University of Massachusetts, Arun stays with the Pattons, an only-too-recognizable American family. While Desai paints a nuanced and delicate portrait of Uma's family, here the writer broadens her brush strokes, starkly contrasting the Pattons' surfeit of food and material comforts with the domestic routine of the Indian household. Indeed, Desai is so adept at portraying Americans through Indian eyes that the Pattons remain as inscrutable to the reader as they are to Arun. But Arun himself, as he picks his way through a minefield of puzzling American customs, becomes a more sympathetic character, and his final act in the novel suggests both how far he has come and how much he has lost. Although Desai takes a risk in shifting from the endearing Uma to Arun, she has much to say in this graceful, supple novel about the inability of the families in either culture to nurture their children. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/03/2000
Release date: 01/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-1675-3
Hardcover - 316 pages - 978-0-7862-2638-2
Paperback - 227 pages - 978-0-09-928963-0
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-09-928472-7
Hardcover - 227 pages - 978-0-7011-6894-0
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-1-4481-0455-0
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-0-547-52627-0
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