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Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai

Clear Light of Day (1980)

by Anita Desai

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5311318,991 (3.53)48
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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
This book is about the quiet and slow disintegration of a family living during partition time in India. At the center of this story are two sisters Bim and Tara Bas who are reunited when Tara returns home to India to attend a family wedding. The story is told in 4 chapters and in the present and childhood past (through the memories of each sister). In many ways the family story parallels the historical backdrop of the partition of India in 1947. The two sisters could not be more different. Bim is strong, independent, rational, and at times cold, cruel, & bitter. Tara is the dreamer: flighty, sensitive, & emotional. Themes of family obligations, resentments, compassion, and forgiveness are at the center of this story as the two sisters come together.

I gave this book 3 stars because it was a quick and easy read that I liked but didn’t love. The strength of the book is Desai’s ability to create such a vivid world that the reader finds themselves immersed in the world she creates. You can almost taste, smell, and see the story. During Bim’s chapter I truly felt her sense of feeling oppressed and burdened by her family responsibilities and this impacted how I felt about other characters in the story. Later in one of Tara’s chapters I felt annoyed at Bim and her bitterness.

The descriptions are detailed and often beautiful. However, nothing much happens in this book. I found it slow and while the descriptions were beautiful, in my opinion, the level of detail felt tedious to me. The resolution felt bland and unsatisfying perhaps because I had been hoping for something more substantial to happen.
( )
  JenPrim | Jan 15, 2016 |
This beautifully written, perceptive, and compassionate novel has been on my shelves for nearly 35 years, and I am very happy that the Reading Globally theme read on the Indian subcontinent led me to take it off the shelf and read it. It is the story of a middle class family in Old Delhi and their interrelationships, focusing on three points in time. It starts when the younger daughter, Tara, who is married to Bakul, a diplomat, returns to her family home, then switches to the children's adolescence at the time of Indian independence and the partition with Pakistan, then goes back to their earlier childhood, and finally returns to the time of Tara's visit, presumably in the 70s.

In addition to Tara, the family consists of older son Raja, who is attracted to the Urdu literary world of their neighbor and landlord, a Muslim; older daughter Bim, who is interested in history, becomes a school teacher, and ends up taking care of the house and the younger son, Baba, who is what would have been called mentally retarded at the time this book was written. Various other characters enliven the book, including their parents, who are largely absent, spending most of their time at the club; an elderly aunt, Mira, who comes to live with the family; the neighbor/landlord family, the Hyder Alis, including their daughter Benazir who Raja ends up marrying after they flee to Hyderabad during the partition troubles; and their other neighbors, the big Misra family.

The beauty of this novel lies mostly in Desai's ability, similar to Chekhov's, to portray each character and his or her interests, strengths, flaws, gripes and grudges about others, and more so the reader can understand and sympathize with them and feel for their problems with the others even while feeling for the others as well. Among the issue they face are feelings of responsibility or irresponsibility, including caring for others, staying put versus moving, what one does with an education, escape and the inability to escape, and old feelings that harden with time. The issues of colonialism, independence, and post-colonialism are in the background, felt but only rarely directly expressed.

Some examples of Desai's writing.

"Oh, Bim," Tara said helplessly. Whenever she saw a tangle, an emotional tangle of this kind, rise up before her, she wanted only to turn and flee into that neat, sanitary, disinfected land in which she lived with Bakul, with its set of rules and regulations, its neatness and orderliness. And seemliness too --seemliness." p.28

"No one," said Bim, slowly and precisely, "comprehends better than children do. No one feels the atmosphere more keenly -- or catches all the nuances, all the insinuations in the air -- or notes those details that escape elders because their senses have atrophied, or calcified. . . .

"Or we lay on our backs at night, and stared up at the stars," Bim went on, more easily now. "Thinking. Wondering. Oh, we thought and we felt all right. Yes, Bakul, in our family at least we had the time. We felt everything in the air -- Mira-
masi's insignificance and her need to apologize for it, mother's illness and father's preoccupation -- only we did nothing about it. Nothing." p. 149

The end of the novel reaches the sort of inconclusive resolution that it is so typical of real life.
2 vote rebeccanyc | Mar 14, 2015 |
Beautiful, rather tentative exploration of the lives of four siblings growing up in a decaying middle-class district of Old Delhi in the 1940s. ( )
  thorold | Jan 7, 2015 |
(17) Oh dear. This was a bit of a snoozefest for me. A slim 180 or so pages but took me far longer than it should have. I quite like good fiction by Indian authors; Lahiri, Mistry, 'A Suitable Boy' was a favorite of mine. I think that is what piqued my interest but this book just didn't do it for me.

Certainly atmospheric. Often beautiful prose. And I rather got the point of much of it - familiarity breeds contempt, the way you both love and hate your close family at the same time, the way no matter how you have changed or what has transpired with your life when you are with your family, you fall into the same tired, yet precious roles. This is the story of one family visit from a younger sister to her older curmudgeonly sister who has never left the dusty family estate which is falling down around them, oppressed in the heat. There are some flashbacks but never really about the stuff I wanted to know about - like the parents, or Baba's condition, or the rift between Bim and her brother. We never even get to meet the brother. What a disappointment, really.

I really didn't get the very end with the little party of the neighbors and the deep reflections about the old man singing. Okaaay. . . I don't know, this missed the mark for me although I did think about it afterwards. Not in a hurry to read another one of hers. ( )
  jhowell | Jun 15, 2014 |
Despite being only 183 pages, I found this book a slow read. A story to contemplate. Tara returns home to Delhi for her nieces wedding and initially struggles to comprehend her sister's simple lifestyle in their family home. She is saddened that her bright intelligent and once driven sister, Bim, holds little expectations about life.
The reader is taken back to their childhood years first through the eyes of Bim and then Tara, slowly building a picture of how past events have moulded their lives. Tara has reason to contemplate her own and her brother Raja's role in Bim's life and Bim discovers a way forward for herself and her younger brother, Baba. ( )
  HelenBaker | Jun 5, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618074511, Paperback)

Set in India's Old Delhi, CLEAR LIGHT OF DAY is Anita Desai's tender, warm, and compassionate novel about family scars, the ability to forgive and forget, and the trials and tribulations of familial love. At the novel's heart are the moving relationships between the members of the Das family, who have grown apart from each other. Bimla is a dissatisfied but ambitious teacher at a women's college who lives in her childhood home, where she cares for her mentally challenged brother, Baba. Tara is her younger, unambitious, estranged sister, married and with children of her own. Raja is their popular, brilliant, and successful brother. When Tara returns for a visit with Bimla and Baba, old memories and tensions resurface and blend into a domestic drama that is intensely beautiful and leads to profound self-understanding.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:17 -0400)

"The novel begins with the triennial visit of the younger sister Tara and her diplomat husband to the old family home, a decaying suburban mansion on the banks of the Jumma outside Old Delhi. Here Bim the older sister, lives with the youngest brother, Baba. Baba is autistic, a childlike, speechless whisp of a man who spends his days playing 'I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas' and 'Donkey seranade' on an ancient wind-up gramophone. The oldest brother, Raja, has moved away. The book divides itself equally between the present of Tara's visit and the sisters' memories of the past....The visit is a strain -- a series of under-the-surface estrangements and rapprochements, with sisterly care ebbing and flowing." Times Lit Suppl. "This work 'does what only the best novels can do: it totally submerges us. It takes us so deeply into another world that we almost fear we won't be able to climb out again.'" N Y Times Book Rev.… (more)

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