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The Artist of Disappearance Paperback – 2012
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There are what appear to be a couple of false notes too – in the first story there is a marriage (arranged apparently), but from the family names given, (Sinha & Mukherjee, and based on my admittedly limited knowedge), these appear to be two different castes in Bengal; also a bride of 13 and a groom of 60?
Then in the second story it is implied (by the description of the journey) that oriya is spoken only in some obscure region, whereas it is actually the language of the state of Orissa which has a population of over 33 million. (Added on 02/09/2016: The second story apparently has some similarity to an incident in Isabel Allende's life, when she worked as a translator.)
However, IMO, the third story, while also slightly outlandish, appears to hang together a little better.
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In "The Museum of Final Journeys," an old man from the countryside visits a new county official, begging for help. The old man has been working all his life for the same family, now dead or missing. The only son has traveled the world, collecting objects which he sends to his mother. After her death, the objects continue to arrive, and the old servant and his assistant must sell off the furniture to create a museum for these stuffed animals and birds, miniature paintings from Persia and the Mughal Empire, and antique weapons of war, among other things. The final gift is the one which the old man loves most, but it requires a great deal of maintenance. He begs the official to accept the other valuable objects in exchange for allowing him to preserve this one final gift. The servant and the official live in different worlds and have difficulties communicating.
"Translator Translated" is quite different. Prema Joshi, returning to her high school for Founder's Day, meets Tara, the brightest and most popular student at the school. Prema, a teacher, has been studying Oriya, her mother's language, particularly the work of Suvarna Devi, unknown beyond her hillside village. Tara, now a publisher of the work of previously unknown female writers, asks Prema to translate Suvarna Devi's first work, and every aspect of Prema's life changes. The second work by Devi, a novel, however, is trite and filled with cliches. "I saw that what was needed was for me to be inventive...and create a style for the book...I decided to take liberties with the text." The results are predictable, and the effects on Prema Joshi's modest life are significant.
"The Artist of Disappearance" tells of Ravi, an adult living in the burned remains of the family home. As Ravi's story evolves, his sensitivity to the world around him becomes clear, and his understanding of aesthetics regarding the natural world is particularly sophisticated. Ravi has created a hidden garden which represents the essence of beauty. At the same time, a group of young videographers is traveling the mountainside looking for examples of environmental despoliation. Ravi, too, finds his life permanently changed.
The importance of beauty and the problem of which beautiful aspects of the past deserve to be saved for future generations permeate this collection. Who should make the decisions about what, if anything, to save? How much beauty should be local? How should artifacts be preserved? As Desai explores these ideas in prose of almost crystalline purity and concision, her sensitivity to the idea of "less is more" prevails. Mary Whipple
A question for anyone who's read the stories, please let me know if these are the final words (don't worry, not enough to be a plot spoiler):
Museum of Final Journeys: the last words are "the much needed diversion." Location: 125 of 131
The Artist of Disappearance: the last words are "journey down to the plains." Location: 795 of 801
My rating: 1/2 star for Kindle version, but Ms. Desai probably deserves at least 3 stars if I could read the rest of each of the stories I was able to start!
I am now keen on reading her older books. It was a fluke buy and am I glad for it!