The Artist of DisappearanceBook |
Weak vessels can’t carry strong ideas.
Preeminent Indian writer Anita Desai's collection of novellas, The Artist of Disappearance, coolly examines three lives lived out in the quiet desperation of small villages. The first novella tells of the dilemma faced by an unnamed civil servant when he's asked to go outside his social station and assist an old villager who has been left with a sprawling collection of disintegrating artifacts. In the second novella, chance brings Tara, a successful publisher, into contact with Prema, an acquaintance from school days. Through a friendly offer from Tara to translate a book by an obscure writer, Prema taps into the long-dormant egotism missing from the rest of her life and begins to lose sight of her task and herself. In the third novella, Ravi, a homeless recluse from a wealthy family left tragically orphaned, has fashioned a kind of private Garden of Eden on the abandoned grounds of his old home. When a visiting documentary film crew inadvertently discovers the site, their efforts to capture it on film threaten to destroy it. In each case, Desai's fragile protagonists find themselves in situations where their privately ordered lives are thrust up against a much harsher reality. The personal and historical past—how to preserve it, if it's worth preserving—casts a long shadow, but while Desai is a marvelous writer and observer, her characters are unfortunately too passive, or simply not developed enough to carry the weight of her ideas.