Anita Desai’s jewel-bright descriptions, careful plots and compassionate prose are welcome reminders that she is still one of India’s most graceful voices.
This collection of three short stories is named for the final piece, about Ravi, an artist so sensitive and private that he cannot bear to share his work with anyone. We get to know him through a series of sepia-tinted scenes, in which his lonely and troubled childhood is revealed. He is the adopted son of a wealthy and shallow-hearted Indian couple, living in Mussoorie during the final years of the British Raj. Eventually both parents die and Ravi becomes the sole owner of his childhood home, a mansion tucked away at the top of a hill. When the building burns down, he sleeps in its ruins while spending the day creating his masterpiece, out of natural materials, in the open air. But when a team of documentary film-makers turns up, looking for evidence of environmental degradation, Desai shows us just how brutal even good intentions can be.