I picked up this Anita Desai novel at the Portsmouth Public Library on the enthusiastic recommendation of Professor Alan Jacobs in his recent book Breaking Bread with the Dead: "One of the most beautiful novels I know."
I was not worthy. I can report that I was impressed with Anita Desai's craftwork, and her subtle observations. I appreciated the book, honest. I just didn't like it very much. Sorry, Ms. Desai. And sorry, Professor Jacobs.
I didn't care about the people, and I didn't find what happens to them very interesting. That's on me.
But: It's mostly the story of the Das family, Hindus living in (old) Delhi, India. It's in four parts, starting at some time in the 1970s, then jumping back to the late 1940s (around the time of the India-Pakistan partition), back a little farther in the third part, and then back to the 1970s for the last. It concentrates on the four Das siblings: Raj, Bim, Tara, and Baba. And concentrates further on the rocky relationship between sisters Bim and Tara.
Raj is taken with their Muslim neighbor/landlord, Hyder Ali; this earns him the ire of his Hindu peers and surveillance by the Delhi cops. Nevertheless, he persists, marrying into the family and moving away. Following a different path is Tara, who marries Bakul, a globe-hopping Indian diplomat. This eventually leaves Bim alone in a decaying house with her autistic brother, Baba, who likes listening to 78 RPM records on an old gramophone. (Bing Crosby crooning "Don't Fence Me In" is a favorite.) Bim becomes a somewhat bitter history teacher, full of dark feelings about how her life turned out.
And a cow falls into the well and drowns. They leave her corpse there. That's symbolic of something, I think.
And there's a lot more in this short book. And, as I indicated above, if you're a different sort of reader than I, you can find it a rewarding read.