My review of Feasting Fasting by Anita Desai
On reading the first chapter, I guessed this book would be a study of a middle class traditional family rather than a plot driven story-line with twists and turns or mysteries. A suburban family – father, mother and three children. As far as the children are concerned, the parents are a single entity- often referred to as MamaPapa. Culturally, the pressure is on the son to get a good education and on the two daughters to make a good marriage. Uma, the eldest, who is physically unattractive, not very bright, turns out to be unmarriageable, remains trapped at home smothered by her overbearing parents and their traditions. Her younger sister meanwhile makes a ‘good’ marriage: but things do not turn out as you expect.
There is tragicomedy in the figure of Auntie Mira-Masi, a widow, who crisses-crosses the country in search of her God Shiva. There is humour, too, in the figure of the ‘black sheep ‘ of the family, Cousin Ramu.
Arun, the disappointing son and heir, is sent to America to study. The life with the Patton family is bewildering for meek Arun. He cannot reconcile to the alien culture of abundance, of packed freezers, of shopping as a form of therapy.
Hypnotically readable, this is a compelling, mature work by Anita Desai and rightly deserves to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize.