Anita Desai Biography
(1937– ), Cry, the Peacock, Voices in the City, Where Shall We Go This Summer?
Indian novelist and shortstory writer, born in Mussoorie, educated in Delhi. Her novels of the 1960s signalled the emergence of a distinctive and original talent, but are now dismissed by the author as overwritten and melancholy. Her first work, Cry, the Peacock (1963), is compelling in its lyrical account of a frustrated young woman's madness and murder of her husband. Other novels, such as Voices in the City (1965) and the brief, pessimistic Where Shall We Go This Summer? (1975), explore the lives and sensibilities of the urban bourgeoisie from differing perspectives, usually those of young married women, while Bye Bye Blackbird (1969) is an attempt to cope with the realities of immigrants' lives in Britain. Fire on the Mountain (1977) brought Desai critical and popular acclaim; the novel reworks the tropes of innocence and experience in its depiction of the tense and ultimately violent relationship between an ageing Indian matron and her disturbed great-granddaughter. Clear Light of Day (1980) locates the experience of Partition and communal disharmony in the memories of an independent single woman attempting to come to terms with her life and relationships. The black comedy In Custody (1984) deftly intertwines linguistic and power politics, aesthetics, Hindu philosophy, and documentary realism in a tale of an idealistic Hindu teacher's obsession with the œuvre of a decadent but brilliant Muslim poet. Barmgartner's Bombay (1987) chronicles the life and murder of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany adrift in a changing India that simultaneously accepts and ignores him; contrasted with his are the experiences of an adventurous and exploitative German itinerant drug addict. In Journey to Ithaca (1995) Desai explores once again the encounter between East and West: a young European couple discover that an Indian saint and mystic was brought up in Egypt. Like Desai's other later novels, the book offers a subjective interpretation of much of this century's history. Other works include a novel for children, Village by the Sea (1982), and a collection of short stories, Games at Twilight (1978).