Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: Fasting, Feasting (Anita Desai)

Title: Fasting, Feasting
Author: Anita Desai
Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 228
Rating: 4 out of 5
Challenges: PoC, Awesome Authors, Reading from my Shelves
FTC Disclosure: I bought this with my own money
Summary (from the back of the book): Anita Desai's new novel, a finalist for the Booker Prize, brilliantly confirms her place among today's foremost Indian writers. Fasting, Feasting takes on Desai's greatest theme: the intricate, delicate web of family conflict. It tells the moving story of Uma, the plain older daughter of an Indian family, tied to the household of her childhood and tending to her parents' every extravagant demand, and of her younger brother Arun, across the world in Massachusetts, bewildered by his new life in the suburbs.

Review: I know I am going to outcast myself from the blogging community when I confess that I didn't love this book. Anjali Banerjee (author of Haunting Jasmine, Looking for Bapu, and other books) recommended it to me as one of her favorites and I feel like I have let her down a bit.

I definitely liked Part I better than Part II. I wasn't really sure why we needed to experience Arun living in the United States when I had become invested in Uma and her experiences in India. It seemed like it was almost a different book that got tacked on at the end though I understand that it was another look at family (and could they be a little more uncommunicative and dysfunctional?!)

I took a while to warm to Uma's situation of living with her parents. That isn't the book's fault, but rather that I read the first 50 to 60 pages in small spurts. Once I got going and began to sympathize with Uma and her situation (from the marriage attempts onward) I enjoyed the book much more. It's so interesting that even in families who aren't well off there are servants, in this family's case a "watchman" and a cook. Of course, Uma was treated as a servant throughout the whole story.

I did like how Desai showed that even when someone gets what we all think they want (Anamika was married off easily to a seemingly good family), things are not as they seem. I wish Uma's parents could have let go a little, allowed her to continue her education, spend time at ashrams, get the eye work done that she needed, and do the job she was offered near the end of the book. She could have had so much more in her life! But, I also get that she was the older, unmarried daughter and her parents just didn't think any of that was proper.

While I appreciate that this book was well written, it just didn't capture my attention as much as I had hoped it would. I was most into the middle third when I really found myself captivated by Uma and her life. I wish that part had gone on more rather than going to the US to hear about Arun

Geography Connection:

Click to see my updated Google Map. I traveled to India many years ago with my family and have always had an affinity for its culture, food, clothing, and more. I usually love books based in India and in fact am going to take on Shantaram with Aths from Reading on a Rainy Day during this summer. Here's some books set in India or by Indian authors that I have read over the past year:




9 comments:

Connolly-Ahern (Col Reads) said...

Thanks for your review, Helen. It sounds a bit depressing for me, but it also sounds very "real."

Hope you got good news today! Col

mynovelreviews said...

I am sorry that you didn't love this book - but I'm glad that you reviewed it becuase it sounds like my type of book!

Anjali Banerjee said...

Hi, Helen,

You haven't let me down at all! Taste in books is highly subjective. One person's treasure is another one's trash, as they say. I loved this book, but I read it a long time ago. I would have to re-read it to see if my opinion still holds up. I also loved Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO, but I know people who really disliked the book.

As an author, I've been at the receiving end of reviews of all kinds, and I've learned to celebrate the good reviews and write for the people who appreciate my writing (like you and like this reviewer, whom I love: http://abookishlibraria.blogspot.com/2011/03/giveaway-haunting-jasmine-ends-april.html)

Florinda said...

Sometimes it's easy to forget in a community like ours that we don't all love the same books - nor do we have to! (I think I'll be bumping up against that myself with the book I'm currently reading.) It sounds as if you liked this one just fine, though, even if it didn't grab you on all levels.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Connolly-Ahern--It was definitely real and not really depressing per se. What word would I use? I guess thoughtful

Mynovel--If it sounds like your kind of book definitely read it as it is well written

Anjali--Thank you for the tip about A Bookish Libraria!

Florinda--Thank you for the reminder! I realize I tell students that all the time: we don't all like the same books, but that's the beauty of literature. Now I just have to remember that in my own reading

Anjali Banerjee said...

Another case in point. When my agent was trying to find a publisher for my first novel, MAYA RUNNING, one editor said she loved the fantasy element but disliked the realism. Another editor said she loved the realism but disliked the fantasy! Those two editors rejected the novel, but we ended up with two strong offers from Penguin and Random House. We accepted the two-book deal from Wendy Lamb Books/Random House. The truth is, we will never please everyone, and if we try to please everyone, our work becomes mediocre at best.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Anjali--great point! When I was the yearbook advisor for 11 years I definitely learned that: if half the people loved the book the other half weren't sure or didn't like it.

Aths said...

It's ok if you didn't love it. I'm putting up a review for tomorrow which every one loved and I just found it ok. LOL! It happens. At least you could share the takeaways you got from this book - that's one of things I love about blogging. Earlier, if I didn't like a book, I feasted of the bad points until a few days later, the 'didn't like' becomes 'hated'. Now though, I think a lot more judgmentally. So it's win-win!

Loved your review - I can really see why this didn't work and I probably would respond the same way. After being so invested in a character, I will find it hard to move to another character.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Aths--Thank you for the support. I also like that in blogging we can put out both the good and the bad in a book and really realize what we liked and didn't like.