By Anita Desai. Grade B
When I got The Artist of Disappearance, I was on cloud nine. I hadn’t read anything written by her until I encountered an excerpt from some of her book in my Functional English Textbook.
I was so moved. I wanted to read more of her, and thus, The Artist of Disappearance.
In this trio of exquisitely crafted novellas, experience the soaring brilliance and delicate restraint of one of India’s great writers.
In the opening novella, The Museum of Final Journeys, a junior Civil Service officer is assigned to a remote outpost. Bored with his new surroundings, he welcomes the diversion when he is called upon by an old retainer to help preserve the decaying treasures of one family’s private museum. Tantalizing and nostalgic, this is an allegory of time and dissolution, and of how the past erodes beauty and the present.
In the second novella, Translator Translated, a prematurely aged lecturer at a girls college chances upon the opportunity of a lifetime when a self-absorbed publisher commissions her to translate to English a collection of short stories of an obscure Oriya author. The assignment transforms her humdrum life, but when the authors family complains about a translation with which she has taken artistic licence her life unravels.
Finally, in the title novella, set in Mussoorie, the reclusive son of wealthy, neglectful parents has a solipsistic existence in the remains of a burnt house high on a mountain. The arrival of a venal film crew from Delhi, making a film about environmental degradation, compels him to withdraw even further into seclusion.Intense, haunting and evocative, The Artist of Disappearance is a delightful rumination on solitude and human frailties.
The Artist of Disappearance is a collection of three novellas by the celebrated author of India, Anita Desai, who has been a nominee of the Man Booker Prize twice. Though, she was beaten by her daughter Kiran Desai in the run (Kiran won the Booker Prize for her book The Inheritance of Loss).
Anita Desai claims that she’s too old to write yet another novel, so she chose to write a set of three novellas in this one.
The first piece, The Museum of Final Journeys is about a newly appointed Civil Servant who is posted to a rural area. Having spent all his life in the Urban India, the man is quite frustrated with the slow pace and technology-sans life in the village he is posted. The lack of company makes the Civil Servant edgy with time. When he is asked by an old man to save a dying museum, it’s just the challenge he was looking for.
The second, Translator Translated is about a dull English Lecturer, Prema, who is made to generate translations of the works of Suvarna Devi, an Oriya writer. She becomes so caught up in her project that she crosses the invisible boundary separating creator and translator.
The third novella, on which the collection of the novellas is named, is The Artist of Disappearance. Ravi lives in a ramshackled house on top of a hill. He has been living there as a hermit since his parents forsook him, until a group of documentarians invade his life.
This book was everything I didn’t expect it to be. There is no doubt about it that Anita Desai is one of the best novelists we’ve ever had in our country, but I didn’t like the way the novellas tread along.
The novellas, all three of them, were miserably bereft of any emotion. For me, a book is all about emotions it induces in you. If I fail to get any, even if the book is written by William Shakespeare, I would not think of it being worthy of the money I spend on it, let alone the time that goes away. Even if it is seemingly a small book, it is very, very heavy to read. Difficult, and a little dry, I would say.
There is also no plot. I know that her books are mostly character-driven, I still couldn’t take many deeper meanings away from the text, apart from those of missed opportunities, isolation, art and artifice.
I give it a rating of B only because the figures of speech used in the book are absolutely great. The imagery and visuals are breathtaking. And there has to be no surprise about it as the writer herself is one of the great ones of her times, The Grandma of Indian Literature, as she is called.