Anita Desai

Chapters in a writer’s life of reading.

In novels like Clear Light of Day and Baumgartner’s Bombay, Anita Desai writes about the India of her youth and characters caught between cultures, much as she was while growing up the daughter of a Bengali father and German mother. Her new book, The Artist of Disappearance, collects three novellas in which the protagonists wrestle with the complexities of Indian life and the encroachments of new influences. This week she selects three books that serve as reminders of her journey to America and the world she left behind but never forgot.

Books by Anita Desai


By Vladimir Nabokov

“Although I had read most of the American classics while still living in India, when I first arrived in the U.S., I found myself totally unprepared. The one literary character I could identify with, completely and joyously, was Nabokov’s Pnin. I bumbled around the college campuses of New England exactly as he had Pnin do — and that, of course, was a reflection of his own bewilderment.”

White Noise

By Don DeLillo

“The American writer I discovered after arriving here, the one who parted that veil of alienation, was Don DeLillo in White Noise. No other book came so close to giving me answers to my many questions.”

The Essential Tagore

By Rabindranath Tagore

“And the India I left behind? The whole of it is encapsulated in the tiny short story by Rabindranath Tagore, ‘The Postmaster.’ Tagore once wrote of a dewdrop ‘which reflects in its convexity the whole universe around it,’ and that is precisely how this exquisite short story can be described. It was made into a film by the great director Satyajit Ray, and of it was said, ‘It says all that can be managed about the loneliness of the human heart.’ “