Anita Desai's new book, hailed as "unsparing, yet tender and funny,"* brilliantly confirms her place among today's foremost Indian writers. FASTING, FEASTING takes on Desai's greatest theme: the intricate, delicate web of family conflict. It tells the moving story of Uma, the plain older daughter of an Indian family, tied to the household of her childhood and tending to her parents' every extravagant demand, and of her younger brother, Arun, across the world in Massachusetts, bewildered by his new life in college and the suburbs, where he lives with the Patton family. Published in Britain to rave reviews, FASTING, FEASTING is "rich in the sensuous atmosphere, elegiac pathos, and bleak comedy at which the author excels" (The Spectator). From the overpowering warmth of Indian culture to the cool center of the American family, it captures the physical -- and emotional -- fasting and feasting that define two distinct cultures. *(Times Literary Supplement)
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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.