Sunday, March 19, 2017

Village By The Sea by Anita Desai : A Review

BOOK TITLE: Village By The Sea

AUTHOR: Anita Desai

ISBN/ASIN: 9780141312712

GENRE: Fiction


FORMAT: Paperback


HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: A special gift from a special friend, memorable for many reasons, but mostly as the first of many book gifts. The attached note makes this invaluable. A book with personal significance!


Forgotten by the evolution of the centuries and indifferent to the advances of the twentieth century, Thul, a tiny fishing village not far from Bombay, continues to follow those rhythms of the seasons that have always been handed down. Hari and Lila were born and raised in the village, but now their family is falling into despair: the father to alcohol while the mother is seriously ill. As for money, that there is not even enough to meet the most basic needs between.


The book has been in my TBR pile for nearly two years now. I did not know about this before I got this book as a very thoughtful gift. But the moment I saw the cover, I fell in love with it. Yes, I did judge a book by the cover, guilty as charged. But as I read the summary, a late 1980s, 1990s feeling crept over me. I was transported back in time to the books and movies that spoke of families, of hope and love, a deep familial bond. This was before I knew the original publication date of the book. Knowing it only increased my eagerness to read.

The additional interest generated was due to the glowing reviews it got from those who saw this book displayed proudly on my bookshelf. I do not have any idea how I went two years without reading it. But with the right type of prodding, I took the book up again and boy, am I glad I did it. This is the kind of soul nourishment I needed at this moment.


It is incredibly hard to write a book about such deep topics as poverty and the hope of life, especially with children as main characters. Village By The Sea is an amazing read for many reasons, but mainly for the perfect blend of description and narrative that it manages to be. The subject matter itself is quite normal. A small family of six lives in a little village called Thul a few kilometers from Bombay. Lila and Hari are aged 13 and 12 respectively but the burden of looking after the household is placed on their tender shoulders because their father is a drunkard and their mother is seriously ill. Their fortunes might turn when there is a huge factory being built in the village. But things take a different turn and soon, the frustrated Hari decides to seek his fortune in the city of Bombay to lift his family up from poverty.

Lila is left to fend for the ill mother and manage despite the drunkard father who frequents the toddy shop every night and spends the little money he manages to get his hands on. In Bombay, Hari meets the people who will change his life and give him the hope. The perfect portrayal of Bombay as the city of dreams and how it has all sorts of people in its folds is one of the strongest parts of the novel. As the son of the family, Hari wants to make his fortune in this city and runs away in search of the DeSilvas who have come to Thul. But despite that he meets certain kind-hearted people there who show him that Bombay is a welcoming city where hope runs side by side with hard work. Hari meets Jagu, the man who takes pity on his and is the reason he eats his first full meal in Bombay and befriends Mr. Panwallah, a watchmaker who shows him the tricks of repairing the machines that show time. Hari realises that he has to go back to his house where his family will be suffering in their state. His sisters had been looking after their mother with the help of the kind DeSilvas and this affects their father in a positive way. What happens after this is the climax of the story.

The book begins incredibly slowly, the excitement does not seep in until after the halfway mark, when Bombay comes into picture and changes things. The narrative though, is very vivid. Desai makes it so beautiful that we can smell the salty tang in the air, feel the sea breeze on our faces, and also feel the pain of the hunger and poverty and the hope and dispair of a little family in the village. Desai brings the scene alive in our minds and engages us with little responsible Lila who wears her special pink saree to the village market and of small determind Hari who wants to go to Bombay so his family will have good lives. It is this speciality of the author that makes the book work for me. I have read many books that were claimed literary masterpieces but I feel this book is better than some of them.

While the descriptive narrative is a huge plus, the story needs the reader to be engaged. The pace is uneven and picks up only at the second half. I loved the language and the writing style but had a few places in the story where I felt it could have been written better. The ordinary story line is made extraordinary by a captivating narrative but sans that, the story and the climax left the reader in me wanting more. There was a hurried 'happily ever after' closure for the main protagonists but the focus dims when others are concerned. The story had a lot it could do, especially considering where it started. There are some unanswered questions left at the end of the book that would break the full rating this book would otherwise get. The ending seemed tailor made for perfection and was not exactly to my liking, though it left a sweet aftertaste.

Village By The Sea is the perfect book for the lazy afternoons. It is a unique blend of descriptions and a good story of hope, despair, poverty and how life can change with the simplest of things. The narrative was believable because none of the changes were really drastic or magical but it left the reader with a positive feeling. The story shall remain etched for long in my mind because of the way it connected. I will give it a near perfect rating despite the flaws I have pointed out because ultimately it won my heart in the poignant way it brought to life a little village called Thul, much like how Malgudi once captured my heart. There is no comparison between the geniuses of both but Desai's characters Lila, Hari, Bela, Kamal, Mr. Panwallah are similar to people I have met in life, who seem like people I know personally because her words brought them to life. And for that, she receives my wholehearted applause.

  • The narrative worked perfectly for me. Brilliance.
  • The characters, especially those from Bombay are multidimensional and very relatable.
  • The feelings of hope and love are the novel's strong points. And reasons why the novel will remain special for me.
  • The pace is uneven. The book would have worked better if the pace were faster in the crucial first few chapters
  • The ending left a lot to be desired, despite bringing a form of closure in its own way.
  • The book had a lot of potential to branch out into descriptions but narrowed its focus on only one family, leaving many questions unanswered.

A book I will treasure forever, and one I will read again and quote from.

RATING: 4.3/5


Anita Desai was born in 1937. Her published works include adult novels, children's books and short stories. She is a member of the Advisory Board for English of the National Academy of Letters in Delhi and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London. Anita Mazumdar Desai is an Indian novelist and Emeritus John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been shortlisted for the Booker prize three times. Her daughter, the author Kiran Desai, is the winner of the 2006 Booker prize.

EDITIONS AVAILABLE: Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover

PRICE Rs. 116 for Kindle, Rs. 208 for Paperback, Rs. 1100 for Hardcover


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