SHORTLISTED FOR THE 1999 BOOKER PRIZE
Uma, the plain, spinster daughter of a close-knit Indian family, is trapped at home, smothered by her overbearing parents and their traditions, unlike her ambitious younger sister Aruna, who brings off a 'good' marriage, and brother Arun, the disappointing son and heir who is studying in America.
Across the world in Massachusetts, life with the Patton family is bewildering for Arun in the alien culture of freedom, freezers and paradoxically self-denying self-indulgence.
Short-listed for the 1999 Booker Prize, Desai's stunning new novel (after Journey to Ithaca) looks gently but without sentimentality at an Indian family that, despite Western influence, is bound by Eastern traditions. As Desai's title implies, the novel is divided into two parts. At the heart of Part One, set in India, is Uma, the eldest of three children, the overprotected daughter who finds herself starved for a life. Plain, myopic and perhaps dim, Uma gives up school and marriage, finding herself in her 40s looking after her demanding if well-meaning parents. Uma's younger, prettier sister marries quickly to escape the same fate, but seems dissatisfied. Although the family is "quite capable of putting on a progressive, Westernized front," it's clear that privileges are still reserved for boys. When her brother, Arun, is born, Uma is expected to abandon her education at the convent school to take care of him. It is Arun, the ostensibly privileged son, smothered by his father's expectations, who is the focus of the second part of the novel. The summer after his freshman year at the University of Massachusetts, Arun stays with the Pattons, an only-too-recognizable American family. While Desai paints a nuanced and delicate portrait of Uma's family, here the writer broadens her brush strokes, starkly contrasting the Pattons' surfeit of food and material comforts with the domestic routine of the Indian household. Indeed, Desai is so adept at portraying Americans through Indian eyes that the Pattons remain as inscrutable to the reader as they are to Arun. But Arun himself, as he picks his way through a minefield of puzzling American customs, becomes a more sympathetic character, and his final act in the novel suggests both how far he has come and how much he has lost. Although Desai takes a risk in shifting from the endearing Uma to Arun, she has much to say in this graceful, supple novel about the inability of the families in either culture to nurture their children.
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Why would any exam board choose this!
What on earth possessed the exam board to pick such a boring, uneventful book to study for such an important time in students lives. Little to nothing happens and it is hard to stay focused on what is happening throughout the book due to its tedious nature.