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Fasting, Feasting (original 1999; edition 2000)
by Anita Desai
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:10 -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
(summary from another edition)
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