I am a bad literature student. In spite of having an interest in Indian literature, I have yet to read any work by Anita Desai. I have read a few of her short stories, but not any of her renowned longer works. Judge me if you will, because I will not give any explanations. If I have the chance, I’d love to read Desai’s novels. I was happy to come across her daughter’s latest Booker-prize winning novel at a reasonable price. I hiccuped through reading it, getting a little lost on the way to the middle of the book. Some books just don’t draw you in instantly, and this was one.
But when I took it up the second time, I went at it relentlessly, reading it not as hungrily as I do other books; but at the same time, finishing it in a span of three or four nights. A prize-winning books comes already loaded with expectations – but a seasoned reader should know that heightened expectations always lead you to a downfall. That’s why it was easier for me to enjoy this book – I expected nothing, and got something.
At the center of Desai’s work is Jemubhai Patel, a retired judge and a totally despicable character. Sai is the judge’s estranged grand-daughter and more or less the protagonist. But the novel would be contrived and narrow if it had stopped at Sai and the judge. Wonderfully enough, Biju, his father the cook, Gyan and a plethora of other characters receive space in the book, narratives running parallel throughout the book – the reader getting a chance to know everyone enough and yet not too deep. The character whose past we see most deeply is the judge – and if you still warm up to him, you’re a saint. As for me, I hated him throughout the book – and was glad that the rest of the characters were left in the shadows. Familiarity after all, leads to contempt.
Desai is lucid. I loved the way she moved comfortably between borders, people, politics, history, and language. The book is almost like a movie, giving you a glimpse of worlds known and unknown. I am not sure, however, if I can say I loved this book. I don’t know if I’ll ever pick it up again, coming back to it for hidden meanings and deeper levels. I am sure of the fact that this book deserves to be read.