Anita Desai (originally Anita Mazumdar) was born to a German mother and an Indian father in Mussoorie, India, in 1937. When she was a child, German was spoken at home and Hindi outside of the family. However, the language she learned to read and write in was English, which is also the language in which she publishes her works. She knew that she wanted to be a writer from a very early age and at age 9 she published her first short story. After studying English at the University of New Delhi, she completely dedicated herself to writing. She has published novels, short stories, and children’s books.
Anita Desai belongs to a generation of Indian authors for whom publishing in English was an experiment. This only changed in 1980 with the success of Salman Rushdie’s “Mignight’s Children”. Anita Desai’s novels are mostly take place in a big city middle-class environment and focus on people, who, after the end of colonial rule, are trying to establish their lives anew or live in a world that is no longer stable. The novels present images of Indian life which revolve around everyday relationships, the clash between traditional ways and power structures, as well as isolation and the longing for love. At the same time they present nuance-filled explorations of the soul. For instance “Fire on the Mountain” is about the isolation felt by an older woman and her solitary great granddaughter. Desai also frequently plays with the perspective of the social outsider or the foreigner to expose Western stereotypes about India; this is the case in “Baumgartner’s Bombay”, the story of a Jewish imigrant family, and in “Journey to Ithaca”(1995).
Desai says that she writes to show what is fundamentally important, to discover the truth which has been buried over by so-called reality. If early in her career Desai still based her work on classic British and Russian writers like E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Tchechov, and Dostoyevski, later she increasingly took the concentration and intensity of poetry as her model. Her prose is concise and clear; it is characterized by a certain soberness and distance to the fictional events. Anita Desai has received many prizes and has been nominated thrice for the Booker Prize. She lives in India and the U.S., where she teaches Creative Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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