A Brief Biography of Anita Desai

Melissa Culross '92 (EL 34, 1991)

Anita Desai was born June 24, 1937 in India to a German mother and an Indian father. Although she now resides in South Hadley, Massachusetts, teaching writing at Mount Holyoke College, she is a member of the Advisory Board for English in New Delhi. Desai writes in English, saying, "I first learned English when I went to school. It was the first language that I learned to read and write, so it became my literary language. Languages tend to proliferate around one in India, and one tends to pick up and use whatever is at hand. It makes one realize each language has its own distinct genius." Her family spoke German at home and Hindi to their friends.

Desai's work is part of a new style of writing to come out of India which is not nearly as conservative as Indian writing has been in the past. One concern that is part of her work, especially the novel Baumgartner's Bombay, is that about foreignness and dividedness. Desai grew up during World War II and could see the anxiety her German mother was experiencing about the situation and her family in Germany. After the war when she realized the Germany she had known was devasted, her mother never returned there, nor had any desire to return. Anita herself did not visit until she was an adult.

[Information from Contemporary Authors and the New York Times Book Review]

Anoop Sarkar's Desai chronology (University of Pennsylvania website)