Major Works of Anita Desai, the Indian Novelist
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...
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