09 February, 2013

#BookReview :: Baumgartner's Bombay by Anita Desai

A "beautifully written, richly textured, and haunting story" (Chaim Potok), BAUMGARTNER'S BOMBAY is Anita Desai's classic novel of the Holocaust era, a story of profound emotional wounds of war and its exiles. The novel follows Hugo Baumgartner as he flees Nazi Germany -- and his Jewish heritage -- for India, only to be imprisoned as a hostile alien and then released to Bombay at war's end. In this tale of a man who, "like a figure in a Greek tragedy . . . seems to elude his destiny" (NEW LEADER), Desai's "capacious intelligence, her unsentimental compassion" (NEW REPUBLIC) reach their full height.

In the last one month I have read three books by Anita Desai, but this is only my first review out of the three. The reason behind it is that Anita Desai’s writing always leaves me with a feeling of awe towards the author. Her language and her writing style is unparalleled in her genre and I feel extremely under qualified to review her works. So instead of making this a proper review, I am going to merely state my feelings from reading this book.

Baumgartner’s Bombay is the story of one Hugo Baumgartner and his life during the World War II. Hugo had the misfortune to be born into a Jewish family during the time of The Holocaust. When his father’s furniture shop was ransacked and he was taken to a concentration camp, Hugo’ mother sent him off to Calcutta with the hope of a better future for her son before going into hiding. But Hugo arrived at Calcutta only to be imprisoned for a long period. Once freed, he moves to Bombay where he rekindles his acquaintance with Lotte and makes a few new acquaintances too. But even then he remains a loner for most part as his true companions were not human, but cats for whom he used to bring scrap food.

Starting with a murder at the beginning, Anita Desai continues to tell Baumgartner’s story by tying up the present with the past. Hugo Baumgartner at a glance seems to be an extremely plain person with no strong personality. As the story progresses, we realize that there’s more to depth to Hugo’s character than we had initially thought. The loner’s need for relationship/companionship is reflected in his apparent affection for the cats. His life from the time of The Holocaust and the following experiences were responsible for shaping up his life and his personality. I found Lotte’s character to be a sharp contrast to Hugo. She had a certain belligerent persona that made her stand apart from Hugo.

The ending was just perfect for how the story had been shaping up. The novel takes us on a ride to discover the importance of relationships, friendships and explore the feelings of loss and solitude. The best part of the story is the author’s narrative style and her elegant writing style which has the quality to grasp the reader unawares and not let go. It simply compels you to delve further and further into the character’s lives and feel their emotions in person.

Awesome book and I recommend it to the people who are interested in reading quality fiction with some depth.  

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