Book Review: The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

Title: The Artist of Disappearance
Author: Anita Desai
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0-547-57745-6
Genre: Fiction, Novellas, Literary Fiction
Pages: 156
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When Anita Desai writes, she creates magic. I have always held on to this belief and moreover also thought that she is one of the under-rated writers in her own country. She writes sparingly and the words sparkle long after the book is published. My tryst with Anita Desai took place when I was barely seventeen. I remember watching the movie In Custody – a Merchant-Ivory production and as the credits rolled at the start, I saw that it was based on a novel of the similar name by a novelist called Anita Desai. I read the book as I loved the film so much. The book did not disappoint me at all and from thereon I read almost everything this writer had to offer.

The Artist of Disappearance is her latest offering. It is a collection of three novellas and in every way as brilliant as her previous works. The Anita Desai Reader (and I do not mean this in the loose sense of the word) knows what to expect. The writing is not only clear but also has many layers to it and as each one unfolds, the others become more elusive. The prose is beautiful, the nuances are well taken care of and she tries not to involve technology in her writing.

This collection of novellas focuses primarily on preservation and change. Of how the characters resist it and some give in, to face the consequences of their choices. It speaks of objects and lives – the nature of the two and how inter-connected they are.

The first novella, “The Museum of Final Journeys” talks of an officer of the British Government sent to a backwater town for his training. He is approached by an old man (the caretaker) from the countryside who wants him to visit a house now turned to a museum of strange and beautiful items. The old man wants to get rid of the most valuable item, which will haunt the young government officer for years to come.

The second novella, “Translator, Translated” is a story of a seemingly quiet teacher whose interest lies primarily in Oriya, a little less known language and how she gets the opportunity to translate her favourite writer’s first book in English. Things go haywire when the author publishes her second book and the teacher takes it upon herself to connect the loose ends, with repercussions unknown.

The third and last novella in the collection, “The Artist of Disappearance” Ravi wants to live an unknown life – like a hermit in the forest. Suddenly his life is turned upside-down when a film crew wants to interview him. He doesn’t feel a part of the existence and disappears using his tact and mastery.

Each of the characters in these novellas wants to preserve – to not let go and life doesn’t give them that opportunity. Ms. Desai’s craft is at a height – she knows what she is doing and she nails it with her writing. Read her for the writing, for the plots she creates and for the sheer beauty of language.

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1 thought on “Book Review: The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

  1. Garvita

    Hi Vivek,

    I write to you on behalf of The Viewspaper ( which is India’s largest youth paper and the 5th largest media company on Facebook.

    We are organizing the World’s Largest Tweet-A-Thon! and would like to invite you as a panelist for the same.

    From American political journalists in the 1950s, to The Economist magazine not so long ago; speculation has run rife about India and whether we will survive as a nation.

    Poverty. Corruption. Terrorism. Disease. Currency woes. We’ve got it all, and more. We’ve been written off, doomsdayed, delegitimized – but we keep coming back! What is the root of this appetite for adversity, this solid resilience?

    It is our nation’s optimism. No matter how much you bring her down, India feels up!

    A first of its kind initiative, the #IFeelUp Tweetathon is a 3-day virtual conference, which delights in the irrepressible state of the nation, in spite of its laundry list of issues. Over 72 hours, we’ll be bringing in 400 panelists for non-stop discussion, and that’s when you come in with your views.

    We would like to invite you to share your thoughts during the conference wherein you can participate from any part of the world.

    Here is the link to the registration page at The Viewspaper that gives complete details of this online event.

    If you’re interested, kindly email us your contact information so that we could provide you with more details about the event.

    I look forward to hearing from you.



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