Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Artist of Disappearance -- a book review

Title: The Artist of Disappearance
Author: Anita Desai
ISBN: 978-0-547-57745-6
Release Date: December 6, 2011
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Literary Novellas
Source: LibraryThing Early Review
Rating: 3 out of 5


A collection of three short "novellas" in the category of personal drama. They seem to center on choice and integrity.


The publisher, or author, says this book is a collection of three short novellas. But I think it is just three short stories. The whole compilation caps out at 155 pages total. To me, that, in and of itself, is a novella -- a short novel. This isn't a novel. Nor a novella. Or a collection of novellas, for that matter.

The three short stories are as follows: The Museum of Final Journeys, Translator Translated, The Artist of Disappearance.

Desai writes well. Her pacing is good, her choice of words, and her voice and style are all champion. She seems a prolific writer -- with fourteen other works listed at the front of the book -- and I will definitely be looking up some of her other titles. But this book? Nope. Not happy with it. I gave three stars only because she writes so well. The characters in these short stories are all ones I never want to know in person though, and that's saying something.

"Museum" is written in first person and tells of one man's unsatisfactory experience at a job he doesn't like. He's given an opportunity to really stand up and make a difference in someone's life ... and fantastically fails at it. By his own choice. I didn't like the character EVER. And especially at the end when his failure is so epic. I didn't dislike him because he failed at his task, but because *he never stepped up to the plate to take the challenge in the first place* AND hurt someone in the process. Total loser.

In "Translator" (a strange mixture of first and third person), I started out liking the character quite a bit, even resonated with her, saw similarities in myself ... and then she got way too "into" herself. A.R.R.O.G.A.N.C.E. personified. Now. Maybe the reason I found this particular story so dissatisfying was because the main character's shadow side too closely mirrored my own, and I didn't want to acknowledge that. BUT, I still maintain I wouldn't have made the same choice she did. I would've operated under a different moral code. So, again, I just couldn't like the character in the end, and that left a bad taste in my mouth.

"The Artist" was my favorite, and it almost made up for the other two. In fact, I can't fault it at all. I loved the main character. I felt for him, I understood him, and I think I would've made the same choices he made if I had been him.

While this book's setting is India, I felt that any of these stories could've happened anywhere, to anyone, of any nationality.

That said, *maybe* the reason I disliked most of the characters and felt so strongly about their integrity (or lack thereof), was because I am viewing them through my white American girl sensibilities. *Maybe* if I were Indian, I would've sighed and nodded my head at their choices. Not been happy, per se, but compassionate and understanding of them -- maybe even seen how (as the book jacket says) there are "ways in which Indian culture can nourish or suffocate."  )

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