Anita Desai is an author I came to as a child, when I read her Village by the sea, so when I spotted her book Fasting, Feasting, on the Orange Longlist for 2000, I decided to borrow it from the library. Set in both India and America, I enjoyed the insight that this book gave me into Indian culture, and the comparisons that Desai drew with Western culture.
The book falls into two halves. The first tells the story of Uma and her family who live in India. She is the eldest, put upon daughter, with a more beautiful younger sister who easily achieves a good arranged marriage, and a much younger brother, who is a long awaited son for the family. After failing to find a husband, she is effectively tied to the house, looking after her parents who are best described as oppressive. I thought that Uma was beautifully characterised and felt a great deal of sympathy for her. The second half, which didn't quite fit with the first half, tells the story of Arun, Uma's brother, and his life in America after he goes to study there. Again, it was interesting gaining an insight into the clash between the different cultures, for example, the family that he stays with over the summer while his university dorm is closed struggle with his vegetarianism. They also expect him to be able to cook wonderful Indian food which leads to an entertaining episode where Arun attempts to make a meal; of course, being the cherished only son, Arun has always been waited on hand and foot and ends up having to make up a recipe, which is completely inedible! Although it seems like Uma and Arun have completely different lives, there are actually parallels in their experiences - both are hugely controlled by the wishes of their parents and neither are hugely happy with their lives and where they have ended up.
It was certainly a thought provoking read and I did like Desai's style of writing. Another of Anita Desai's books, The zig-zag way, also appears on the Orange longlist for 2005, so I shall be reading that in due course.
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