Biography of Anita Desai

Anita Desai (nee Mazumbar) is a critically lauded 20th-century writer, and her novels on the experiences and inner lives of Indian men and women are known for their compassion, eloquence, and lucid prose. Having come of age when India achieved independence in 1947, Desai weaves politics and gender issues into her works.

Desai was born in Mussoorie, India, and spent her childhood in Delhi. Her parents had met in Germany when her father was studying there, and they moved back to his home of India in the 1920s. Desai grew up speaking German, Bengali, Hindu, and Urdu, and only learned English when she went to a mission school. She then attended school at Queen Mary’s School in Delhi and received a B.A. in English literature from Miranda House at the University of Delhi.

In 1958, Anita married Ashwin Desai, a business executive, and they had four children (Kiran Desai, one of her daughters, won the Man Booker Prize in 2006).

Desai published her first short story when she was only twenty years old. Her first novel was Cry, the Peacock (1963). Her other novels include: Voices in the City (1965), Bye-Bye, Blackbird (1971), Where Shall We Go This Summer? (1975), Fire on the Mountain (1977), Clear Light of Day (1980), In Custody (1984), Baumgartner’s Bombay (1988), and The Zigzag Way (2004). In addition to novels, she has written books for children, numerous short stories that have been collected into anthologies, and essays.

Desai has received many awards, including the Royal Society of Literature Winifred Holtby Prize (1978), the Sahitya Akademi of India Award (1979), the Guardian Award for Children’s Fiction (1982), the National Academy of Letters Award, and three nominations for the Booker Prize. She has taught at Cambridge, Oxford, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and MIT; she is also a member of the Royal Society of Literature and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Desai and her family currently live in the United States.


Study Guides on Works by Anita Desai

Clear Light of Day is perhaps Anita Desai’s most beloved work, notable for its lush prose and compelling, compassionate look at the inner lives of an Indian family. It is also her most autobiographical work, taking place in the same area where she...

Published in 1999 by Indian author Anita Desai, the novel is set in two countries, India and the United States. It revolves around a family and their intricacies, specifically around Uma, the family’s oldest daughter who is unmarried and is...

Fire on the Mountain is a 1977 novel by Anita Desai that deals with the subject of solitude, existentialism and oppression of females in the Indian patriarchal society. The book tells the story of Nanda Kaul, a widowed reclusive woman living in...

In Custody was published in 1984 by author Anita Desai and is one of her most well-known novels. The American-Indian author has won a number of awards, including the British Guardian Prize, while In Custody was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In...

The Village by the Sea is a novel written by Anita Desai and published in 1982. The novel focuses on a small family in India who lives in a village near the sea. The family is in a difficult situation because the mother is extremely sick and the...