Though set in Old Delhi and centering in part on the Hindu/Moslem tensions of 1947 India, Desai's second novel is really a...



Though set in Old Delhi and centering in part on the Hindu/Moslem tensions of 1947 India, Desai's second novel is really a thoroughly universal tale of unhealable family hurts; rather than E. M. Forster, the echoes here are of Chekhov, even of Arthur Miller (especially The Price). The story begins circa 1970--as pretty Tara, long-married to sleek, patronizing diplomat Bakul, returns to Old Delhi to visit older, gray-haired sister Bim (a teacher at the local college) and younger brother Baba (a simple-minded near-mute who plays 1930s pop-song records all day). ""Why had nothing changed? She had changed--why did it not keep up with her?"" And while Tara tries to persuade Bim to come along to the wedding of their niece--daughter of prosperous brother Raja in Hyderabad--Bim remembers the family history that led to her isolated state, to her scornful anger at Raja. Back in the late 1940s, Father had an insurance company, Mother was a semi-invalid diabetic--and when little Baba was born, Aunt Mira came to help care for the four children (to Tara, ""she smelt of cooking and was made of knitting""). But when Mother and then Father died, Aunt Mira (an alcoholic, suicidal madwoman) merely became another of the responsibilities to fall on Bim's young shoulders. . . while Tara escaped to early marriage and Raja, a tubercular Hindu teenager stubbornly hooked on Islamic culture, yearned to join the evacuated family of their landlord--a wealthy Muslim whose fortune survived India/Pakistan partition. So plain-faced Bim was abandoned, left to care for helpless relatives, to be limply courted by a mother-dominated, Mozart-obsessed doctor; and--the coup de gràce--Raja married the landlord's daughter, becoming Bim's oh-so-generous absentee landlord. (""Because of me, he can't raise the rent or sell the house and make a profit--imagine that. The sacrifice!"") Assailed by these memories, in the present tense once again, middle-aging Bim turns bitter (""They had come. . . to torment her and, mosquito-like, sip her blood""), takes out some of her anger on poor Baba, but then arrives at a sort of catharsis: ""Although it was shadowy and dark, Bim could see as well as by the clear light of day that she felt only love and yearning for them all, and if there were hurts. . .then it was only because her love was imperfect"" And--though ""Nothing's over. . . . Ever""--she'll compromise: she won't go to the wedding, but she will invite Raja to come for a visit. . . . Occasionally a bit overwrought, with not quite the ideal balance between flashback and foreground--but a small, poignantly detailed family drama nonetheless, distinctively shaded with enticing glimpses of India's Hindu middle-class in shabby decline.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1980

ISBN: 0618074511

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1980