(Mini-Review): Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai

ClearLightOfDayClear Light of Day (1980) is set in India’s Old Delhi, which was once home to the ruling Mughals but is now, centuries later, the center of New Delhi.  It is a portrait of the Das siblings and their shifting, changing relationships.

The book opens with Tara’s visit to her childhood home.  She is the youngest sister, somewhat unambitious, who got married and escaped her family’s many conflicts during the country’s partition.  Her relationship with her older sister, Bimla, is strained and tense.  Bimla is an ambitious, though dissatisfied, college professor who stayed  behind to look after their mentally handicapped brother, Baba.  Then there is Raja, their successful older brother, who married into a rich family and leads a very glamorous life in Pakistan.

The siblings’ history mirrors that of India’s Partition. There are lost opportunities, pain, sacrifice, and an underlying tension due to what could have been.  How they could have been different  had they acknowledged each other’s needs and stayed together.

There are also the familiar tropes of post-colonial literature, particularly around questions of identity and the nature of independence.  Above all, it is a story of forgiveness and self-acceptance.

It is a well-written and accomplished novel; the story is informed by the author’s own childhood. Yet, I found this book difficult to read. There were many similes and an abundance of descriptive language that weighed down the story.  The atmosphere was dark and moody.  Intense too.   But, there wasn’t much in the story to justify this intensity  In contrast to the title, the atmosphere was foggy and turbid.

I rarely dislike a book if I do not feel a connection to the characters.  Clear Light of Day is an exception.  No, I think dislike is the wrong word.  I just did not find it compelling enough.  I fully grasp the author’s intentions and I can safely say that she achieved it.  It is largely a well-regarded book. But it did not grab my attention and emotions.  I’ve been thinking that, perhaps as an only child, I simply don’t appreciate sibling conflict.  Perhaps.  Pity though, because I’d been looking forward to an enjoyable introduction to Desai’s work.




  1. I have rather heard so many good things about this author – perhaps, this may not be the one to start with. I may have to start with another Desai book. Thanks fr prompting me.


    • I doubt that I will try another Desai book. I find her style of writing difficult to engage with. Pity, but there are so many more books to read. At least I gave her a full try. I did finish the book.

      Yep, I think that I;m back to stay. Somewhat :).


      • I completely agree with your opinion.I have a sibling and still didn’t relate to the problems in the story.I didn’t find the story engaging enough and like you i doubt if i would read any other book by her.The issues weren’t so big as Bim made it appear and i also felt that she wanted to be a martyr and often she wasn’t kind or understanding to other characters who would get the readers’ sympathy like Dr.Biswas


  2. Too bad you didn’t enjoy this one more. I think you are right that our own personal situations, whatever they may be, often cloud our opinions of books. I hope that your next read by Desai is more enjoyable for you.


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