Friday, August 10, 2007

Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai

The library's evening book club will be meeting Tuesday, August 14th at 7:30 pm to discuss Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai. It was her first book (of 3) to be nominated for the Booker Prize. (FYI: her daughter Kiran won it last year for her own novel, The Inheritance of Loss).

Anita Desai explains how the novel is partly autobiographical in an interview:

The setting is autobiographical, but [being partly set in 1949] it is also about India becoming independent and de-colonized. It is set in my home city of Old Delhi, in a period of my childhood, during a time when I was becoming a woman. It was the coming together of two momentous events in my life, growing up and India transforming from a colony to independence. Even such a quiet, protected, enclosed place as the family’s home could be affected by the great events of history. But Bimla in this novel and also Moyna, in the story “Rooftop Dwellers,” stay alone to represent the growing independence of women in India and having the choice of not getting married."

Clear Light of Day is notable for the atmospheres and textures that it conveys. In her review of the book in the New York Times, Anne Tyler says,
This is a book without apparent movement. It hangs suspended, like the family itself, while memories replay themselves and ancient joys and sorrows lazily float past. . . But above all else, what keeps us reading is the invisible motion - first the journey downward as the sisters sink into the past; and second, the interior journey that Bim undertakes as Tara's visit lengthens.

Here are a few discussion questions to be thinking about as you read the novel:
1. How are Tara and Bim different? Tara says that they are more alike than ? Which one can you identify with the most?
2. How is the book structured chronologically and why?
3. How are poetry and reading important in the lives of the Das family? What are the 3 types of readers the author describes on page 120? Are you a passive or an active reader?
4. What is the atmosphere of the house? Do you think Bim has changed it for the better, as Tara says, or is it still a malevolent place?
5. What part of the parents' neglect was most horrifying to you? How did this neglect continue to affect the children's lives and choices once they became adults?
6. What does the title mean? (It is taken from page 165.)
7. How is the role Bim now plays in the family like her aunt Mira’s? Why is she so angry at her family?
8. What is the significance of the story of the pearl that turned out to be a snail, which is retold more than once in the book? Why is Baba compared to a snail on page 103?
9. Pay attention to the passages that mention the well, especially those on pages 149, 152 and 157. What different things does the well come to stand for in the characters' minds?
10. What parts of the book did you think were funny?

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