Read Reader's Guide for Fasting, Feasting and Diamond Dust published by Houghton Mifflin Company text version

MARINER BOOKS H O U G H T O N M I F F L I N C O M PA N Y

FASTING, FEASTING

BOOKER PRIZE FINALIST

A Reader's Guide

ANITA DESAI

"India's finest writer in English." -- The Independent "Desai has a remarkable eye . . . for the things that give life texture." -- New York Times

"[Desai] has much to say in this graceful, supple novel ..." -- Publishers Weekly From an Indian summer's sun and dust to a New England summer's "white heat," Fasting, Feasting examines the intricate web of family conflict and security on two continents. Anita Desai's eleventh novel--her third to be shortlisted for Britain's Booker Prize--is the moving story of Uma, the plain and awkward older daughter of an Indian family, and of her younger brother, Arun, attending college in Massachusetts. With the favored son away at college and her younger sister married, Uma is little more than an unpaid servant to her tyrannical parents. She persists, however, in her search for beauty and freedom. Across the world, Arun is bewildered by American college life, especially by the ways of the Pattons, with whom he spends the summer. Mr. Patton's devotion to red meat, Mrs. Patton's commitment to a wellstocked kitchen, their son Rod's dedication to physical fitness, and daughter Melanie's bulimia confuse and frighten Arun and move him to reassess everything he has ever taken for granted. Hailed in Britain as "rich in the sensuous atmosphere, elegiac pathos and bleak comedy at which the author excels" (The Spectator), Fasting, Feasting brilliantly confirms Anita Desai's place among today's foremost writers in English.

DIAMOND DUST: STORIES

A MARINER ORIGINAL

FASTING, FEASTING ISBN 0-618-06582-2 · $13.00 234pp. · 5 1/2 x 8 1/4

"Anita Desai is one of the most brilliant and subtle writers ever to have described the meeting of eastern and western culture." -- Alison Lurie

DIAMOND DUST: STORIES ISBN 0-618-04213-X · $12.00 192pp. · 5 1/2 x 8 1/4

In these nine radiant new stories, Anita Desai continues her peerless exploration of the tensions between social obligation and personal independence, the complex dynamics of families, and the clash between the old and the new. Traveling from India to Canada and on to Mexico, she deftly captures our struggles against cultural and emotional constraints. Desai's range is astonishing. In the title story, a civil servant's devotion to his dog leads to tragedy. In "Royalty," a long-married couple's plans are thwarted by the arrival of an old friend. In "Winterscape," an Indian man brings his mother and aunt to Canada for his first child's birth. The owner of the small English seaside hotel in "Underground" spends his evenings feeding a family of badgers. Young Polly of "The Artist's Life" finds her illusions shattered by her parents' unkempt tenant. In "Tepoztlan Tomorrow," a U.S.-educated man returns to his native village to find its residents--and himself--much as they were when he left but caught up in some entirely new causes. And in "The Rooftop Dwellers," a young woman from a small provincial city struggles to make a career and a life of freedom for herself in Delhi. These collected stories are a splendid addition to Anita Desai's distinguished career. And--together with Fasting, Feasting and Mariner Books' reissue of her classic novel, Baumgartner's Bombay--they mark a formidable addition to Houghton Mifflin's list of world-class authors.

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ANITA DESAI

1930 1935 1947

AN INDIA TIMELINE

Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi (1869­1948) launches a civil disobedience campaign against British rule. Britain grants India a constitution providing for a bicameral federal congress. Britain partitions British India into the dominions of India and Pakistan. India becomes a self-governing member of British Commonwealth. Jawaharlal Nehru becomes independent India's first prime minister. More than 12 million Hindu and Moslem refugees cross the India-Pakistan borders; approximately 200,000 people are killed in fighting. Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated by a Hindu extremist. India becomes a democratic republic, with a new constitution. The first general elections result in the Congress Party retaining power and Nehru continuing as prime minister. The Dalai Lama flees from Tibet into India. India goes to war with China. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru dies. War with Pakistan ends with a ceasefire. Mrs. Indira Gandhi (daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru) becomes prime minister. Mrs. Gandhi is expelled from the Congress Party for indiscipline. Pakistani troops attack Bengali separatists in East Pakistan and approximately 10 million refugees flee into India. War breaks out between India and Pakistan. East Pakistan becomes the independent nation of Bangladesh. India becomes a nuclear power. Mrs. Gandhi is found guilty of "electoral malpractice" and invokes emergency provisions of the constitution. India resumes full diplomatic relations with Pakistan. The sixth general elections end the Emergency. Anti-Gandhi opposition parties turn Mrs. Gandhi's Congress Party out of power for the first time since independence. Morarji Desai becomes the first non-Congress prime minister. Mrs. Gandhi becomes prime minister a second time. Mrs. Gandhi is assassinated. Her son, Rajiv, replaces her as prime minister. A Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal kills more than 2,200. Rajiv Gandhi is swept from office in ninth general elections. Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated. The tenth general elections return the Congress Party to power.

Copyright (c) 2003 Houghton Mifflin Company, All Rights Reserved

1948 1950 1952

Anita Desai was born Anita Mazumdar, in northern India's Mussoorie, in 1937. With a German mother and Bengali father, she and her sisters and brother grew up in Old Delhi, speaking German at home, Hindi with friends and neighbors, and English at school. Her formal education began at the Queen Mary's School and she went on to receive her B.A. from the University of Delhi. Married in December 1958, Desai began writing during times salvaged from house, husband, and children. Her first novel, Cry, the Peacock (1963) introduced a theme that would remain a constant in her fiction--the suppression and oppression of Indian women. It was followed by Voices in the City (1965), Bye-Bye, Blackbird (1968), Where Shall We Go This Summer? (1973), and Fire on the Mountain (1977), the first of her novels to be published in the United States. The latter received both India's National Academy of Letters Award (Sahitya Akademi) and the Royal Society of Literature's Winifred Holtby Prize. A collection of stories, Games at Twilight (1978), followed and then a children's book, The Peacock Garden (1979). Clear Light of Day (1980) was the first of Desai's novels to be shortlisted for Britain's Booker Prize, joined in 1984 by In Custody (also a Merchant-Ivory film) and, in 1999, by Fasting, Feasting. Baumgartner's Bombay (1988), a Hadassah Prize winner, and Journey to Ithaca (1995) round out the list of her published novels. Desai's prizes extend to the Guardian Prize for Children's Fiction for her book, The Village by the Sea (1982). Desai resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is a professor in MIT's Writing and Humanistic Studies Program; in Cambridge, England, where she has been a visiting fellow of Girton College and Clare Hall; in New Delhi; and in Tepoztlan, Mexico, the setting of her story "Tepoztlan Tomorrow" and her next novel. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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1959 1962 1964 1965 1966 1969 1971

1974 1975 1976 1977

1980 1984

1989 1991

FOR DISCUSSION

We hope the following questions will stimulate discussion for reading groups and, for every reader, provide a deeper understanding of Fasting, Feasting and Diamond Dust: Stories.

DIAMOND DUST: STORIES 1. How does the title of each story reflect the story's main theme,

action, or character?

FASTING, FEASTING 1. "I've always been aware of food as an obsession," Desai has

said. What function does food play in the novel? How does food provide both "focus and continuity" in both societies?

2. What are the tensions in these stories between women and

society and between women and their families? What "defensive strategies" are required of women?

3. Can you explain Raja's value as a "precious commodity" (in 2. What kinds of freedom and what specific freedoms do the

characters seek? "Royalty") and the resulting willingness of Sarla, Ravi, and others to care for him, to tend to his every whim?

3. What is the significance of Uma's experiences at, on, and in

the sacred river?

4. In "Winterscape," Beth and Rakesh's house is "crowded with

[Asha's and Anu's] hopes, expectations, confusion and disappointments." To what extent is this true of many of the characters in these stories--Polly, in "The Artist's Life," and Moyna, in "The Rooftop Dwellers," for example?

4. In what ways does spirituality enter the novel? What characters have authentic spiritual leanings or capacities?

5. What roles and expectations are open to women and men in

the India and America of Fasting, Feasting? What do the details of Anamika's and Aruna's marriages reveal about women's lives in traditional India?

5. What everyday and more formal rituals and routines are portrayed? What are the consequences of misunderstanding, ignoring, or departing from them?

6. What differences and similarities are there between the Indian

and American families, between corresponding members of the two families (for example, Mama and Mrs. Potter), and between their communities?

6. In "The Artist's Life," Polly takes to the backyard tire swing

"to act out the contortions of the inarticulate mind." What are these contortions, as far as Polly is concerned, and how are they worked out in the course of her story?

7. What instances and images of imprisonment and entrapment

occur in the novel's two parts?

7. To Louis, in "Tepoztlan Tomorrow," his aunt's house "was a

larger cage." What roles do houses and other residences play?

8. What are the purposes of the various rituals, ceremonies, traditions,

and routines--personal, social, and religious--that are observed in the novel's two parts? What are the consequences of ignoring tradition and custom and of disrupting established routine?

8. As she entertains Tara and Adrian on her terrace and again at

the end of "The Rooftop Dwellers," Moyna experiences a sense of freedom. In what ways can we say that Moyna is free?

9. How does Desai establish Mama and Papa's identities as separate persons and, at the same time, as the single, and singular, MamandPapa?

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9. In what circumstances do individuals relinquish established or

expected roles to others, as Anu relinquishes her role as mother to Asha, in "Winterscape"?

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GLOSSARY

(H = Hindi; M = Mexican Spanish; S = Sanskrit; U = Urdu) ayah (H) a children's or lady's maid badmash (U) rogue; scoundrel badmashi (U) scandalous, mischievous behavior banyan a tropical fig tree, native to India, that grows new trunks from aerial roots over an increasingly large area basura (M) garbage; rubbish betel nut the fruit of the betel palm, chewed with lime and betel-pepper leaves as a mild stimulant bolsa (M) bag bomba de gaz (M) propane tank chaiwallah (H) seller of tea to travelers charpai (U) a lightweight bedstead or cot. English: charpoy chunni (H) white (the color of mourning) article of clothing draped over the shoulders and head by women dhal (H) a tropical shrub (a pulse) cultivated for its pealike seed pods; also refers to a dish of cooked lentils, beans, peas, and similar leguminous plants dhoti (H) a long loincloth worn by Hindu men; most familiar in the West as being worn by Mahatma Gandhi faisla (U) settlement helados (M) ice cream; ice-cream cones jacaranda a tropical tree bearing large clusters of lavender flowers koel a large cuckoo Krishna the most important avatar of Vishnu (second god of the Hindu trinity), a demon slayer, flute player, and lover maidan (U) an open space in or near a town, used for public walking and recreation, parades, and sports events mali (H) gardener masi (H) aunt mynah (H) a large tropical starling of India and Southeast Asia oleander a poisonous warm-climate shrub bearing fragrant white, pink, or red flowers "Om swa-ha!" (S) Sanskrit chant at Hindu religious ceremonies pai dog (H) stray dog

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Glossary (continued)

paisa (H) pipal tree (H) plumbago puri (H) Quièro es? (M) Ramayana sahib (H) salwars (U) samosa sardar-ji (H) sari (H) Shiva slokas (S) sri (S) sucio (M) tonga (H) a small-denomination coin, equal to 1/100 of a rupee in India a fig tree of India, also called "bo" tree, sacred to Buddhists; traditionally regarded as the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment a plant bearing clusters of variously colored flowers. English: leadwort a light, flat wheat cake, usually fried in deep fat Who's there? an ancient Sanskrit epic poem relating the adventures of Ramachandra, an incarnation of Vishnu; regarded by Hindus as sacred a title of respect, similar to "Mister," "Sir," or "Master" loose trousers tied with drawstrings a small pastry turnover filled with a spicy meat or vegetable mixture a Sikh, the added "-ji" a term of respect the principal outer garment, formal or casual, of a Hindu woman the Hindu god of destruction and reproduction, a member of the supreme Hindu trinity (along with Brahma and Vishnu) Sanskrit verses Mr. or Sir dirty a two-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage

For additional copies of this Reader's Guide-- while supplies last--contact your Houghton Mifflin representative or call Houghton Mifflin at (800) 225-3362. Or you may print available Mariner Books Reader's Guides from our Web site -- www.hmco.com/trade/. ISBN 0-618-06733-7 (pack of 10 Reader's Guides) TITLE # 5-99043

Produced by Hal Hager & Associates, Somerville, NJ Author photo: © The Independent/Philip Meech

M A R I N E R B O O K S / H O U G H TO N M I F F L I N C O M PA N Y

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