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Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai

Fasting, Feasting (original 1999; edition 2000)

by Anita Desai

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7262012,927 (3.27)59
Title:Fasting, Feasting
Authors:Anita Desai
Info:Vintage (2000), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:@f, @8

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Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai (1999)



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Shortlisted for 1999 Booker Prize and long-listed for the 2000 Orange Prize, I had high expectations for Feasting, Fasting. Though I enjoyed the story, overall I was left somewhat disappointed.

Written in easy to read prose, the story is about a a family in small town India. Uma and Aruna are the two daughters of "MamaAndPapa" who tightly control their children. Around mid- life , Mama gives birth to a beloved son, Arun. The eldest daughter, Uma, is a homely, somewhat slow and clumsy child . Upon the birth of her brother, Uma is pulled out of school to look after her new younger brother, and ultimately her parents too. Sister Aruna leaves the family quite early in the novel, to what appears to be a happy arranged marriage. As the eldest daughter, Uma should be married first, but efforts in this direction fail. Uma is left a to be essentially a slave to her parents. Interestingly, an attractive and educated cousin appears to make a happy marriage match, only to end in tragedy. The controlling nature of parents in India is on full display here, as is the the preference for male children. The lack of rights and blame accorded to girls and women is also explored.

The heavy parental expectations and responsibilities placed on son Arun is told in the second part of the story. Arun is tutored to exhaustion , and expected to attend college in the USA. This he does, but he feels lost and troubled in the USA. Arun wishes to just blend in and disappear.

Overall, a decent read. I felt that the second part of the novel , concerning Arun was much too short and underdeveloped. It seemed somewhat shallow and contrived. Nonetheless, later in the year , I plan to read another book by Anita Desai, Clear Light of Day.Clear Light of Day is billed as on one of those " 1001 books you must read before you die."

3. 7 stars. ( )
2 vote vancouverdeb | Feb 5, 2016 |
The first part (over half the book) concerning the daughter in India, unmarried, taking care of her demanding parents, was a beautiful and finely drawn character study. The second part, with the son going to the U.S. to school, was less expertly done and tended more toward the cliche (or maybe I just recognized the cliches). Reminded me a little of Jhumpa Lahiri's work, in that regard. ( )
  bibleblaster | Jan 23, 2016 |
This is a book about family ties and is written in two separate parts.

The first part features Uma, the eldest daughter of a family living in a provincial Indian town who is removed from a school that she loves, despite being a very poor student, to look after initially he baby brother and then her parents. In Uma's world girls are brought up to be married off so extending the family ties whereas it is the male progeny who are expected to make their way in the world.

Uma is plain is clumsy and fails in everything she does whether it be in education, as a hostess or as a prospective wife. In contrast her younger sister Aruna is a beauty and ambitious who succeeds in everything she does including a 'good' marriage. Uma is controlled by her parents and fails to see the opportunities that life offers her. Around the age of 40 her young brother Arun goes away to be educated in America.

The second part of the book features 3 months that Arun spends living with an American family,the Pattens. After the suffocation that Arun feels within his own family where expectations of him are very high and his every day is fiercely controlled by his father he initially loves the anonymity of life on a US college campus. However, when the college closes for the summer he is forced to live with the Pattens. Once there he begins to abhor their seemingly loose family ties and the ease of American suburban life where everything, in particular food, seems so plentiful and readily available that vast amounts of it is simply bought for the sake of it and as such goes ultimately to waste.

Overall the message of the book seems to be the contrasting differences in family life in India and America. One is very strictly controlled with a larger extended circle the other is much more insular with looser ties. However, as Arun only spends three months living with the Pattens this seems a little unfair.

I have not read anything by this author before and on the whole her writing style with its light prose but overall the book failed to really grab me. In today's modern world I have no idea whether or nor this depiction of Indian family life is a fair one (especially as I'm not of that background) and her view of the Patten family life seems a little simplistic especially given that Arun only spends 3 months living with them. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jul 13, 2014 |
This book is more like two novellas than one novel. Connected by being about the same family the first is about the eldest daughter in India and the second about the son who is studying in America. I found the first part the stronger of the two. Uma's life changes after the birth of her brother, taken out of school to help run the family home; unmarried she turns into more of a servant within the family. This part of the story covers a longer time scale so we get more of a picture of the life of the family. Arun's story takes place over one summer vacation that he spends with an American family.

As a picture of life this works but there is also something incomplete about the telling. There are no real conclusions to either part of the story. I wouldn't say that I won't read any more of Anita Desai's work but I'm not going to go out of my way to find another of her novels. ( )
1 vote calm | Apr 14, 2012 |
The basic story follows a middle class family in India, and is in two parts. The first is from the perspective of the eldest daughter, who being neither very pretty nor very bright, is pulled out of school at a young age to help with the housework, and the second part from that of the youngest sibling, the son, the apple of his father's eye and bearer of the family's expectations, who is sent to America to study. Its well written but I think my initial reaction was skewed by the unresolved nature of both parts of the tale. Which perhaps is part of the point. While I was reading it I was quiet absorbed though, and portions of the story have really stayed with me. ( )
  iftyzaidi | Jul 1, 2011 |
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Anita Desaiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Holleman, WimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the veranda overlooking the garden, the drive and the gate, they sit together on the creaking sofa-swing, suspended from its iron frame, dangling their legs so that the slippers on their feet hang loose.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0618065822, Paperback)

Anita Desai has long proved herself one of the most accomplished and admired chroniclers of middle-class India. Her 1999 novel, Fasting, Feasting, is the tale of plain and lumpish Uma and the cherished, late-born Arun, daughter and son of strict and conventional parents. So united are her parents in Uma's mind that she conflates their names. "MamaPapa themselves rarely spoke of a time when they were not one. The few anecdotes they related separately acquired great significance because of their rarity, their singularity." Throughout, Desai perfectly matches form and content: details are few, the focus narrow, emotions and needs given no place. Uma, as daughter and female, expects nothing; Arun, as son and male, is lost under the weight of expectation. Now in her 40s, Uma is at home. Attempts at arranged marriages having ended in humiliation and disaster, and she is at MamaPapa's beck and call, with only her collection of bracelets and old Christmas cards for consolation.
Uma flounces off, her grey hair frazzled, her myopic eyes glaring behind her spectacles, muttering under her breath. The parents, momentarily agitated upon their swing by the sudden invasion of ideas--sweets, parcel, letter, sweets--settle back to their slow, rhythmic swinging. They look out upon the shimmering heat of the afternoon as if the tray with tea, with sweets, with fritters, will materialise and come swimming out of it--to their rescue. With increasing impatience, they swing and swing.
Arun, in college in Massachusetts, is none too happily spending the summer with the Pattons in the suburbs: their refrigerator and freezer is packed with meat that no one eats, and Mrs. Patton is desperate to be a vegetarian, like Arun. But what he most wants is to be ignored, invisible. "Her words make Arun wince. Will she never learn to leave well alone? She does not seem to have his mother's well-developed instincts for survival through evasion. After a bit of pushing about slices of tomatoes and leaves of lettuce--in his time in America he has developed a hearty abhorrence for the raw foods everyone here thinks the natural diet of a vegetarian--he dares to glance at Mr. Patton."

Desai's counterpointing of India and America is a little forced, but her focus on the daily round, whether in the Ganges or in New England, finely delineates the unspoken dramas in both cultures. And her characters, capable of their own small rebellions, give Fasting, Feasting its sharp bite. --Ruth Petrie

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:15 -0400)

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) "Through the deceptively simple juxtaposition of opposites and the interweaving and repetition of themes in these two narratives, Desai builds a complex and elegant fiction." Boston Globe "Desai is more than smart; she's an undeniable genius." The Washington Post "What a pleasure! She is really one of the most accomplished novelists writing today-- the book flows like water, it comes like a gift to the parched. Heart-rending, yes of course, being about how rescue never comes, but so alive in its appreciation of life's consolations as to be quite magical." -- Fay Weldon "Short-listed for the 1999 Booker Prize, Desai's stunning new novel...looks gently but without sentimentality at an Indian family...she has much to say in this graceful, supple novel about the inability of the families in either culture to nurture their children." Publishers Weekly, Starred "Anita Desai is considered one of the foremost Indian authors writing in English. Her novels convey the tangled complexities of Indian tradition, with an economy of language that is clean, simple and elegantly straightforward." The Denver Post "It is Desai's great accomplishment to portray the worlds of the brother and sister as not simply opposites (as the title might suggest), but as sharing similar forces of family pressure, parental expectation and sibling rivalry. Desai's characters are wonderfully, fallibly human as they wend their way through the maze of everyday domestic tensions." The San Francisco Chronicle "Anita Desai is a wonderfully subtle writer who acheives her powerful and poignant effects by stealth rather than direct action." Salon "Fasting, Feasting posits food as a metaphoer for emotional sustenance. Everything centers around food. Desai, who teaches writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells the story with lapidary prose, creating intimate scenes as detailed as Indian miniature paintings. An accumulation of small details as steady and fine as drops of small rain create and eventual flood that drowns the happiness and the hopes of both Arun and Uma." The Seattle Times "The Indian-born novelist and MIT writing instructor (Desai) deftly conveys the comic horror of escaping the constraints of family and navigating an alien culture, in this case, ours." Boston Magazine "The peerless chronicler . . . [of] a world which is already disappearing." The Independent… (more)

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