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Desai, Anita

baumgartner story german bombay

(Indian, 1937– )

Desai was born in Mussorie, of German and Indian parentage, and has been shortlisted several times for the Booker Prize, most recently in 1999, with Fasting, Feasting. Like many of her novels this story inhabits the meeting-point between two traditions and explores Uma's efforts to carve out a psychic space between herself and her superficially westernized parents. Their attempts at marrying her off cause Uma deep humiliation and a sense of failure. Desai's style is richly descriptive and sharply conveys the city's character in Baumgartner's Bombay (1988). Hugo Baumgartner has lived in Bombay since leaving an internment camp after the war, being Jewish but regarded as German by the British. Always an observer, he survives, but the new Germany brutally catches up with him. Fire on the Mountain (1977) focuses on a character who is ultimately flawed. Nanda Kaul has protected herself from her disappointment in her husband and children by her fierce solitariness. She allows her great-grandchild to come and stay, with shocking consequences. Journey to Ithaca (1995) follows the spiritual quest of two dissatisfied Europeans, Matteo and Sophie, each finding enlightenment according to their different natures.

Desai's Clear Light of Day (1980) brilliantly explores the anguish of partition through the story of a Delhi family and their neighbours. Set in the present of the 1970s, the novel deals with sibling rivalry, childhood memory, and the way the present is shot through and rich with the past, in lucid and evocative prose. This is one of the great books about family.

R. K. Narayan, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. See INDIA  TO/JR

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