Clear Light of Day (1980)

by Anita Desai

Although it is set in India and traces changes during the country’s postindependence years, Clear Light of Day is a book with which anyone can identify who has ever felt hurt, resentment, or tension in a sibling relationship.

The Das siblings, two females and two males, had a strange, lonely childhood in Old Dehli. Their parents were distant and then prematurely dead; the aunt who moved in to help care for the autistic younger son, Baja, was an alcoholic who succumbed to the disease. Two of the siblings escaped: Raja married the daughter of their wealthy Muslim landlord and is a successful businessman living in Hyderabad. Tara married a diplomat and has lived all over and is now residing in America. Bim, the older sister, was the only one left to care for Baja.

The book opens with Tara’s returning to the old family home to visit Bim and Baja on her way to the wedding of Raja’s daughter. Old memories return, along with old tensions. Although she has made a career as a teacher, Bim is dissatisfied and feels cheated. She hasn’t spoken to Raja in years over a letter in which she felt he insulted her, and she refuses to attend his daughter’s wedding. Bim’s anger builds until an eruption brings her to a profound realization about the unbreakability of the family bond.

Anita Desai writes with a quiet, introspective style that rewards close attention. The daughter of an Indian father and a German mother, she spent much of her early life in New Dehli. Although she now lives and teaches in the United States, she sets her fiction in India.


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