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Anita Desai’s Book The Zigzag Way

Categories: Anita DesaiBooks

Anita Desai is a highly acclaimed writer who has received many awards in recognition to her unique and extraordinary contributions to the world of literature. One of the many works of this author is the book entitled The Zigzag Way. Although the other works of Anita Desai are equally interesting and thought-provoking, this paper aims to conduct a critical discussion of this book in particular. The Zigzag Way revolves around the life of a young man named Eric who visits Mexico on his first trip abroad.

Eric is an awkward, hesitant historian who views himself as a writer.

The uncertainty present in the main character is balanced by Anita Desai’s inclusion of a confident girlfriend, who is actually the primary reason for Eric’s visit to Mexico. Eric’s stay in Mexico brings him into contact with Dona Vera. Dona Vera is the character that introduces Eric to the mining town where his grandparents used to live in. The Harvard student ends up on a quest to uncover his family history.

While Eric searches for answers in ghost towns, the story brings its readers to the past of Dona Vera and also back into the time of Eric’s grandparents.

The visit to Dona Vera’s past shows her rise from poverty while the exploration of the life of Eric’s grandfather shows the reader of the hardships of the Cornish immigrants. At the end of the story, Eric finds himself in an encounter with a ghost during a celebration of La Noche de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead.

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This encounter allows Eric to visualize his own future and thus ends his quest not as one based on an understanding of his family history but rather one that was based on self-discovery.

Reviews of The Zigzag Way

Because of the acclaim achieved by Anita Desai’s work, many critics take the time to include her most recent releases in their list of books to review. The Zigzag Way has been critiqued by many individuals. Three of these include Rita Balla, Donna Seaman, and Rita Balla views The Zigzag Way as a trimmed, straight-forward story that includes all the essential required by the readers despite the relative conciseness of the book. She describes the book as being pervaded by a sadness that is only complemented and perhaps even intensified by the author’s choice of temporal setting.

The cultural scene of Mexico at the particular time of the year during which the story was set by Anita Desai is explored and described comprehensively by the reviewer. Rita Balla maintains that the author employed too many dead characters in the story, this referred not only to the entrance of an actual ghost at the end of the story but also to the short segments in the story wherein the author went back into the lives of Eric’s grandfather and of Dona Vera. Balla believes that Desai was much too harried in the presentation of the story and failed to establish a connection between the reader and the characters.

The characters supposedly living in the present time seemed to act as ghosts as the author stressed the lives of those who lived in the past. The reader remains distant throughout the story according to Balla. This is mainly because of the author, Anita Desai’s, rush to reach the conclusion of the story and to reveal to the audience the ultimate finale, Eric being freed from his uncertainty. However, despite the critique regarding Desai’s writing style, Balla is still able to point out some of the more desirable aspects of Desai’s The Zigzag way.

The critic states at the end of her review, “The real merit of this book is the metaphor of the journey (the zigzag way, precisely) like the mind and heart opening tool that we should all experiment at one point of our existence. ” (Balla) Another critic of Anita Desai’s The Zigzag Way is Donna Seaman. Seaman describes Desai as an author of fiction whose works show her fascination for cultural collisions. She goes on to portray Desai as a highly competent author with an acute perception for culturally bound rituals and experiences.

Unlike Balla, Donna Seaman’s account of The Zigzag Way is all praises and lacks in much needed constructive criticism of the work at hand. Seaman does, however, note an aspect of the story that Balla failed to inspect. She points out the masterful way by which Desai was able to show the history of the Cornish immigrant of the past Mexico. Seaman insists that Anita Desai was able to artfully describe the conditions of these Cornish individuals and the harshness of those they served.

Donna Seaman reviewed The Zigzag Way as a book that was full of history. This was clear from her appreciation of the way Desai was able to join the story of the Cornish immigrants into Eric’s present meanderings. Balla’s critique that was more inclined to not supporting Desai’s choice to switch characters in this particular part of the story, was the opposite of Seaman’s enthusiastic acceptance of this specific addition to the story. Seaman extols the overall impact of Anita Desai’s The Zigzag Way on readers.

She describes the book as being full of compassion and wonder. Seaman states her own wonder at Desai’s capability to heighten the experience of the novel through its characteristics of specificity and universality. A third review on The Zigzag Way was accomplished by Pico Iyer. Iyer views Desai as a sharp female author with a quick eye for cultural settings and a quick hand for creating masterful pieces of literature from these settings. In the Zigzag Way, Anita Desai expands her playing field and assesses the land of Mexico.

Pico Iyer views the main character of The Zigzag Way as a typical Anita Desai character, one who is from another country and is for the first time exploring a new foreign culture and location. Iyer praises Desai’s ability to introduce her readers to a foreign land. He indicates Desai’s use of all available faculties, sights, sounds and even smells to suggest to the reader the experience of the main character. Unlike Balla, Iyer believes that Desai is able to show the readers a very in depth view of her characters.

Iyer points out that Desai bring Eric’s hopes and illusions to the fore of the story’s telling. This is in complete contrast to Balla’s assertion that Desai was unable to establish attachment on the reader’s part for the main character. The three critics clearly take different routes in criticizing The Zigzag Way and even take completely opposite stands regarding some of the aspects of the story. However, all three reviews provide valid points. The reviews should all be taken into context and all should be given equal weight when considering the merits and downsides of Anita Desai’s The Zigzag Way.

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Anita Desai’s Book The Zigzag Way. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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