Anita Desai: Overview

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Author: Bruce King
Date: 1996
From: Contemporary Novelists(6th ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,141 words

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Whereas earlier Indian novelists were concerned with nationalist politics, protest and cultural assertion, Anita Desai is interested in the various changes which have affected lives since independence. Although her novels differ radically in subject matter, they attempt to find patterns in the chaos of modern India and modern life. At times this can result in the simplified optimism of The Village by the Sea: "You are going to give up your traditional way of living and learn a new way to suit the new environment that the factory will create at Thul so as to survive. Yes, you will survive." More complexly In Custody notes the decay of the great Muslim Urdu-language culture of north India since colonialism and partition; the last remaining great poet, carrier of the tradition, grows senile in a Delhi where Urdu poetry is used for the lyrics of sentimental cinema music.

An excellent stylist whose impressionistic sentences move the mind to imagine visual scenes, Desai is a less patient, less tolerant, more questioning social satirist than R.K. Narayan. She sees the same comedy of oversize characters, inefficiency, and deflated ambition as Narayan, but with less sympathy. Her up-beat, hopeful endings often seem imposed, a forced, formal drawing of the curtains on a farce or comedy which was leading towards a revelation of a dark world. Other novels reveal unsatisfied lives filled with illusions, lack of will, pettiness, misplaced duty, false ideals, and self-deception. The relationships between the characters and their lives are filled with subtexts; several of her novels are about the tensions between people related through family, childhood, friendship, admiration, or need. These people never live up to their ambitions, while the larger-than-life are small when seen closely. Desai's...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420002214