Anita Desai on Longing and Striving

From The New York Times:

AnitaSometimes a mango is just a mango. This is rarely the case in Indian novels, where mangoes tend to be luminescent orbs dangling in steamy air, glistening with sweetness, sex and Being itself, waiting to be plucked, caressed, birthed. Either that or they’re muddy and rotten and piled high on a dirty road, surrounded by rancid garbage, rank cooking fires, beggar children and grinning, greasy swindlers. In other words, mangoes in India’s literary fiction are much like India in literary fiction: distinguished by pleasing aromas or permanent anarchy, if not some chutneyed combination.

For almost five decades, Anita Desai’s writing has avoided this easy trafficking in the delicious and malicious. She has instead created a body of work distinguished by its sober, often bracing prose, its patient eye for all-telling detail and its humane but penetrating intelligence about middling people faced with middling prospects. Whether in India, Mexico or America, Desai’s characters tend to be easy marks for new possibilities — for something, anything, other than life as it is. This vulnerability leads to promising experiences, which often become fresh disappointments. For a writer so taken with such arrangements, the best results are minor-key masterpieces; the lesser efforts are melancholy suffocations. Both outcomes are evident in the three novellas that make up her new collection, “The Artist of Disappearance.”

More here.