Title: Fasting, Feasting
Author: Anita Desai
Release Date: January 3, 2000
Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Fasting, Feasting is the story of two Indian children: Uma, the eldest daughter, and Arun, the much-loved youngest, and also the only son. When Arun is born, an unplanned child, Uma is expected to give up her school in order to care for her infant brother. Her parents reason that she is failing out anyways, and she will be more useful at home. Devastated, Uma fights this decision, but in the end, she ends up following her parents’ wishes.
The title of this book really tells the reader all they need to know about it. Uma is the “fasting” portion - because her parents were unable to arrange a marriage for her (though not for lack of trying), Uma sits at home, dreaming of a life she never had. Her story is heartbreaking, as her parents basically use her as a servant without thinking twice about it. It is only natural that she should sacrifice her prospects in order to care for her brother, because he is the beloved son and she is a burdensome daughter. The portrayal is nuanced and beautifully written, and it will make the reader’s heart bleed for Uma.
Arun, on the other had, is described by the word “feasting” because he has never really known want. He has always had everything delivered to him on a silver platter (usually by his sister). This juxtaposition is done incredibly well, showing the disparity in treatment of two children from the same family, simply because an accident of birth made Uma female and Arun male. However, Arun also has his own, more personal burdens. He bears the weight of the family’s name and must succeed in the world because he will disappoint his father if he doesn’t.
Anita Desai writes this family with clear, crisp prose, never shying away from the difficult truths that the reader must face. Uma is endearing and quietly beautiful; she captures the reader’s heart from the very first pages. She is devoted to her family, but at the same time, she yearns to break free and have a life of her own. Arun, on the other hand, doesn’t appreciate what he is given until he is studying in the United States and no longer has these familiar things around him. I would loved to have seen more of his story, as Desai depicted the confusion of an Indian living in an American world incredibly well. I wouldn’t want to take anything away from Uma’s story, but Desai could easily have added 50-100 pages onto the end of this book without losing the reader’s attention.
Fasting, Feasting is a quiet, contemplative novel about the love and injustices in one Indian family. This family isn’t necessarily typical of those in India, but it’s still a brilliant depiction, one that Desai accomplishes masterfully. Her prose is beautiful and easy to read, and the book has a universal message of acceptance that will appeal to any reader. I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in cultural, character-driven stories.