Title: Fasting, Feasting
Author: Anita Desai
Publication Year: 1999
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Borrowed from the library at school
From the cover:
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.
This was an interesting book, though a bit hard to get into at first. I’ve read – after picking this up already – that a lot of people do not recommend it as the first of Desai’s books to read, but that’s just how it worked out for me. I actually thought, based on the title and the girl on the cover, that there might be a religious (Muslim?) element to Fasting, Feasting;. Despite references to the Ganges and to temples and Buddhism, though, there really wasn’t much of a religious component.
What there was, however, was a really engaging story about traditional family values in certain parts of India. Most of the book is told from the viewpoint of Uma, and then it switches over to that of Arun; we learn about the other characters only through the eyes of one or the other of them. It was really eye-opening to look at traditional (aka “backwater” or old-fashioned) cultural values from the eyes of a character within a society, rather than through the eyes of an outsider looking in. This was particularly interesting to me given that Desai is from India, and therefore is speaking from first-hand experience of the world around her.
Having said that, this was – at times – a very heavy book, and not as quick of a read as its length might suggest. You might find it interesting if you enjoy reading about traditional families and societies, or about India, but I’ll warn you that it’s not a happy book. I still enjoyed it though, so you might, too!