Salman Rushdie posted a couple of tweets about how he has presented Anita Desai with the India Abroad Lifetime Achievement Award and that she is a great writer. He even called her The Indian Austen. Naturally, this kindled my interest so I asked him which books he would recommend. He recommended two: Clear Light of Day and In Custody.
Now I’ve just finished reading Rushdie’s novel Shalimar the Clown. How amazing is it then to be able to reach out to this great author and get some recommendations to another writer? How amazing is it that he actually answered?!
Born in 1937, Desai is an Indian novelist who has been shortlisted for the Booker three times. Apparently, she published her first story at the tender age of nine! She is the mother to the Booker winning novelist Kiran Desai (who won the Booker award 2006 for The Inheritance of Loss – she is apparently in a relationship with Orhan Pamuk, the famous Turkish novelist).
Desai writes both novels, children’s literature and short stories. Writing in English, Desai writes about Indian life, gender roles, the importance of families, how women in India rebel against the traditional patriarchal society and it’s norms and values, and the complexities of modern Indian life and culture.
Since Anita Desai published her first book in 1963, Cry, the Peacock, she has written at least 16 books, the last being The Artist of Disappearance (2011).
Clear Light of Day (1980)
Set in India’s Old Delhi, CLEAR LIGHT OF DAY is Anita Desai’s tender, warm, and compassionate novel about family scars, the ability to forgive and forget, and the trials and tribulations of familial love. At the novel’s heart are the moving relationships between the members of the Das family, who have grown apart from each other. Bimla is a dissatisfied but ambitious teacher at a women’s college who lives in her childhood home, where she cares for her mentally challenged brother, Baba. Tara is her younger, unambitious, estranged sister, married and with children of her own. Raja is their popular, brilliant, and successful brother. When Tara returns for a visit with Bimla and Baba, old memories and tensions resurface and blend into a domestic drama that is intensely beautiful and leads to profound self-understanding.
In Custody (1984)
Touching and wonderfully funny, In Custody is woven around the yearnings and calamities of a small town scholar in the north of India. An impoverished college lecturer, Deven, sees a way to escape from the meanness of his daily life when he is asked to interview India’s greatest Urdu poet, Nur – a project that can only end in disaster.
So what this means is that I’ve discovered a new author to add to my wish list, an author I hope to get around to reading soon since her books sound very interesting!
In conversation: Kiran Desai meets Anita Desai – The Guardian