So this is one of of my really older posts that I simply wrote and published (while I was on blogspot still, but never really shared it anywhere). But I did enjoy the writing in this book – Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai. While my review remains largely the same – considering I only vaguely recall the book – I made some updates to the style; and I do notice many differences in how I wrote earlier and how I write reviews now!
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The Book Review
A wonderful novel in two parts, moving from the heart of a close-knit Indian household, with its restrictions and prejudices, its noisy warmth and sensual appreciation of food, to the cool centre of an American family, with its freedom and strangely self-denying attitudes to eating.
Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai tells the story of the two main characters, Uma and Arun, in two parts.
Uma, the eldest daughter in the family, is clumsy, myopic, prone to fits, and largely unsuccessful in life (report cards at school, cooking, marriages where her family is duped resulting in lost dowries and humiliation) though not for lack of effort or enthusiasm to succeed on her part. She thinks of her parents as a single entity – mamapapa – and after two failed marriages, mamapapa decide to stop making any efforts and start their lifelong duty to ensure she is busy looking after them.
Whenever Uma finds an avenue for freedom – a pilgrimage with the forever on the move Mira Masi, a job offered by an empathetic Dr.Dutt – it is rejected or cut short by MamaPapa. Her only solace is in brief moments of blankness or in her collections (glass bangles she never wears, old Christmas cards whose words cheer her).
In spite of her lot in life, she does not seem to begrudge others their joys – her sister Aruna’s charmed marriage, their brother Arun’s college acceptance in the US – but instead is the only one who notices that with all their joys, they are still unhappy. Aruna strives for a dream and Arun has become so mechanical that nothing brings out emotion in him.
Desai portrays the differences between the siblings in a few sentences describing one of Aruna’s visits to her maternal home with her in-laws after marriage: “She(Aruna) spent the entire visit hissing under her breath at Uma,’Can’t you bring out a clean tablecloth? Don’t you see this one is all stained?’” and “she (Aruna) could not believe he (Arun) existed, as he did, and preferred to act as if he did not (which suited him very well)”
The book suddenly shifts from Uma to show us what Arun is up to in Massachusetts. As he spends his summer with the Pattons (Mrs.Patton being the sister of Mrs.O’Henry from his hometown in India), Arun strives to remain anonymous but realizes it is impossible to do so fully. He realizes that in his attempt to escape, he has stumbled into a ‘plastic representation’ of his life at home.
Arun sees his family in the Pattons. He does not understand the excesses in the Pattons’ lifestyle – the loaded shopping carts, the fridge drooping with the weight of all the frozen food that no one eats, the bags of candy consumed. As Desai puts it so well ‘For the first time in his existence, he found he craved for what he had taken for granted before’ (the meals that were always there for him).
Uma and Arun
Between Uma and Arun, between MamaPapa’s family and the Pattons, between Mira-masi’s sparse meals and the Pattons’ fridge full of food, Desai cleverly integrates the title of the book. Also brought to mind for me the part of the first line of Anna Karenina: ‘every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’
This was the first book by Anita Desai that I read. I enjoyed the wonderful play of words and the way everyday characters and happenings are brought to life here but the book left me oddly dissatisfied too, waiting for some sort of closure for the main characters at least.
Get It Here
Note: Both Words of the Week and Wordless were sections I had included on my original post and decided to include them here again, just because!
Words of the Week
I was reading Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle for PC the first time this post was published and the words are from the book:
1. A formal eulogistic composition intended as a public compliment. 2. Elaborate praise or laudation; an encomium.
1. The act of advancing to a higher position or office; promotion. 2. A position, appointment, or rank giving advancement, as of profit or prestige. 3. The act of preferring or the state of being preferred.
Would You Rather
Would you rather eat/drink a fictional food/drink or an exotic food/drink?
A fictional one for me, please!!
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, does this book remind you of any others? Sibling rivalry related books maybe? Or books about siblings as each of them moves forward with his or her own life?
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