BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

Artist of DisappearanceHow silly of me for waiting so long to read this, the venerable Anita Desai’s latest, when I’ve had the galley for almost a year (it pubbed last December). Instead, I’ve slogged through too many disappointing, tedious, nightmare-inducing titles when I could have been celebrating just how affecting great storytelling can be … my one regret is that the slim collection contains only three novellas, although that, too, is a much-needed reminder of quality over quantity.

Neither the book’s back-cover blurb nor the accompanying press release offers much information about the collection’s contents, except to reveal that the three stories are set in India “in the not-too-distant past,” followed by many (well-deserved) superlatives about Desai’s writing. To approach the stories knowing virtually nothing is truly a gift (so no spoilers here). I don’t think I’ve ever actually committed this cliché to print … but sinking into Desai’s quiet stories was a cleansing breath of fresh air after too many oppressive texts in a row. Allow me to share just these few thoughts …

“The Museum of Final Journeys” will leave you startled. A young man, new to civil service, begins his career in a remote town. What he finds in a once-glorious compound reduced to a pleading cry for help from its caretaker, will haunt him for decades with “Could I have done more?”

In “Translator Translated” – my personal favorite – two disparate schoolmates meet decades later, their professional lives converging over an obscure book. Their exchange will surely have you rethinking authorship, accessibility, and literary legacy – not to mention the nature of human relationships. Pay close attention to the unexpected shifts in point-of-view …

The final story, the eponymous “Artist,” is a labyrinthine exploration of our bonds – the ones in name only, and the ones we actually uphold – to family, friends, and even Mother Earth.

On the book’s final page, a character shouts, “‘That is what we need for a finish!'” And on this Friday-the-13th, I appropriate his sentiment with gusto: This is what I need to finish a mighty crazy week! Feel free to join me …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011


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