Anita Desai follows her Booker Prize shortlisted novel Fasting, Feasting with these nine wise and entertaining stories. She thanks the Civitella Ranieri Foundation for providing her with a generous summer in Umbria to complete them, and it is nice to think of her seated in an American writers’ haven, in a citadel near Umbertide, writing about India, England, Canada and Mexico. Sometimes in the stories the cultures touch and meet, overlap and merge. Sometimes the Indian stories take over what we have tended to think of as English themes – the reunion of Oxford graduates thirty years on; the struggle of a girl from a bourgeois country background to leave home and work on a magazine in the city; the passion of a nice family man for the family dog: old favourites, but more piquant and intense and somehow sharper with Indians in the leading roles.
In ‘Royalty’, the dashing one-time lad-of-the-college who once enslaved his undergraduate friends enslaves them again when he arrives uninvited to stay with them in sizzling New Delhi, just as they are thankfully packed up for the coolness of the hills. On and on he stays, reclining in his gold silk