Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai

When Random House was first introduced in India as a publishing entity, Anita Desai’s works were one of the chosen to be published by them and honestly according to me, one of her best works has been “In Custody”. However, I will post about that later. For now let’s focus on “Fire on the Mountain”.

Anita Desai is one writer with rare sensitivity and perspective. She never disappoints any reader with what she writes. She is economical with her words, however each one perfectly fits the situation.

The novel starts out with Nanda Kaul, who has almost renounced the world and is now living a quiet life in Kausali amidst the hills and pinecones. The book is about her, and how her life is disrupted when her great grand daughter Raka, comes to live with her, who is just recovering from a severe case of typhoid. Nanda does not want to take care of her. She doesn’t feel like conversing again and doesn’t want to make sure of another life’s comfort.

What I loved most about the book were the small interactions between Nanda and Raka. The short conversations are enough to foretell the future events. Though for some readers, it might be a slow and dull book, however let me assure you that it is one delightful read. The approach is minimal and amidst all this Nanda’s childhood friend, Ila Das arrives to live with them. A story of three women who are brought together under one roof is done without any drama attached to it.

What takes place in the last few pages of the novel catches the reader by surprise. All the signs of the end were present in the novel, in the descriptions, in the tone of the narrator, and in the few chosen words of the characters. This, to me, is the strongest feature of the novel. A must read.

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