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Anita Desai Books In Order

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Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Cry, the Peacock (1963)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Voices in the City (1965)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Bye Bye Blackbird (1968)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Peacock Garden (1974)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Where Shall We Go This Summer? (1975)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Fire on the Mountain (1977)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Clear Light of Day (1980)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Village by the Sea (1982)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
In Custody (1984)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Baumgartner's Bombay (1989)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Journey to Ithaca (1995)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Fasting, Feasting (1999)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Zigzag Way (2004)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Collections

Games at Twilight (1978)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Scholar and Gypsy (1996)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Diamond Dust: Stories (2000)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Collected Stories (2008)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Artist of Disappearance (2011)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Complete Stories (2017)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

Peasant Struggles in India (1984)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Anita Desai is a literary fiction award-winning Indian novelist and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Born in 1937, she is the daughter of a Bengali businessman, D.N. Mazumdar, and a German immigrant mother, Toni Nime. Her father met her immigrant mother while studying engineering in prewar Berlin. The two married when it was unusual for an Indian man to marry a European woman. After marriage, the parents migrated to New Delhi.

Desai went to Queen Mary’s High School in Delhi and later graduated from the University of Delhi with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature. A year later, she married the director of a computer software company, Ashvin Desai. The couple has since had four children, including an award-winning writer Kiran Desai. Her children spent their weekends in Thul, a place that played an essential role in the setting of Desai’s book, The Village by the Sea, which won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 1983.

Desai’s debut novel, Cry the Peacock, was published in 1963. She had previously collaborated with P.Lal, and they founded a publishing firm named Writers Workshop in 1958. She describes her book, Clear Light of Day, published in 1980, as her most autobiographical work set in the same place she grew up during her coming of age.

In Custody (1984) is a book about an Urdu poet who was shortlisted for the Booker prize during his decline days. Her 1999 novel, Fasting, Feasting, was a Booker Prize finalist, and it’s one of the few books that contributed to Desai’s rise in popularity worldwide. In Custody was adapted for the big screen by Merchant Ivory Production in 1993. The movie screenplay was written by Shahrukh Husain and directed by Ismail Merchant, starring Om Puri, Shashi Kapoor, and Shabana Azmi, and won the President of India Gold Medal for Best Picture in 1994.
Desai has been shortlisted three times for Booker Prize. Her novels Fire on the Mountain and The Village by the Sea won a Sahitya Akademi Award in 1978 and the British Guardian Prize, respectively.

Fasting, the Feasting book, is divided into two parts. The book’s first section takes place in India, where we meet a family of five, a father, a mother, and their three kids (2 daughters and a son). The book’s second part takes place in America in a family of four: a father, mother, daughter, and son. The connecting thread of the story is Arun, the son of an Indian family who travels to Massachusetts for school and spends the summer with the American family. Even though the two families are worlds apart, they have a common patriarchal family system with an inflexible hierarchy that forces the members into rigid roles. In the two cultures, the women are the primary victims, whether single, married, young, or old.

The first part is told through the eyes of Uma, the eldest daughter of the Indian family. She suffers from myopia and epilepsy conditions that her trivialized by her family and considered inconveniences. She remains single and lives with her parents, who often impose constant demands on her. She complains but eventually complies with her subordination. Uma has few choice as she is single, uneducated, and relies on her parents for survival.

In the book’s second section, the setting shifts to America, and we are introduced to the Patton family. We see this family through the eyes of Arun, who is surprised to see similar patterns in the American family he saw in his own family. He sees some similarities between Mrs. Patton and his mother. The two women often defer to their husbands and hesitate to assert themselves. During those rare occasions when the two women express their views, their husband ignores them. Then there is Melanie, Patton’s daughter, who’s bulimic. In her angry face, Arun can see the same expression as that evident in his sister Uma whose needs have been ignored, misunderstood, or neglected.

The author uses food as a metaphor, just like in the title, to compare and contrast Arun’s two families. Food is used to express communion in one culture, while in the other culture, it’s used to express isolation. In Indian culture, sharing meals implicates ritualistic importance. The family is brought closer for their meals even when communication stalls. Food is a frequent theme of discussion as to what and when to cook, what food to offer visitors, and who and who should not be invited to a meal.

On the other hand, Patton’s family has a bad attitude toward food. The mother stuffs the refrigerator with all sorts of food even when what’s already there hasn’t been eaten. Additionally, the father grills meat that no one else in the family wants to eat. The daughter eats candy and peanuts only to vomit everything a few minutes later. The son feeds on leftover meat on the instruments used for grilling, and the family never sits down together to share a meal. They all eat in isolation.

Anita Desai is a down-to-the-detail keen observer of human behavior. Her character shines bright with life within the book’s first few pages. They are all revealed through intricate details, facial expressions, gestures, words said, and words left unsaid. The author shows rather than tells, which is what makes the story interesting for the most part, as the reader is given the task of revealing different emotions by the characters, mostly through their actions. For example, in the first section of the book, there is an intriguing scene where the Indian family sits down at the dinner table. After finishing their meals, the father sits with a sphinx-like expression. Then the mother sees this expression as a cue for her to get him an orange, and she keenly removes the pips and places the orange slices on the father’s plate, and he lifts them happily in his mouth as everyone watches in silence at this astonishing feat. After finishing, the mother sits back with pride for her achievement, and the father maintains his silence as a nod of appreciation.

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