The Zigzag Way
By Anita Desai
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618042159, 176pp.)
Publication Date: November 2004
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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In her long, distinguished career, Anita Desai has focused her capacious vision on questions of culture and identity. Her mesmerizing new novel, The Zigzag Way, brings her fiction to an unexpected region of the world: mythical, lush Mexico. In this seductive landscape, a young American stumbles upon an unlikely path to self-discovery.
Eric is a newly minted historian just out of graduate school, unsure of his past choices and future options. With no clear direction, he follows his lover, Em, when she travels to the Yucatan for her scientific research, but he ends up alone in this foreign place. And so he pursues his own private quest, tracing his family's history to a Mexican ghost town, where, a hundred years earlier, young Cornish miners toiled to the death. With vivid sympathy, Desai conjures the struggles of Eric's grandparents and their community.
Now, in place of the Cornish workers, the native Huichol Indians suffer the cruelty of the mines. When he inquires into their lives, Eric provokes the ire of their self-appointed savior, Dona Vera. Known as the "Queen of the Sierra," Dona Vera is the widow of a mining baron who has dedicated her fortune to preserving the Huichol culture. But her formidable presence belies a dubious past.
The zigzag paths of these characters converge on the Day of the Dead, bringing together past and present in a moment of powerful epiphany. Haunting and atmospheric, with splashes of exuberant color and darker violence, The Zigzag Way is a magical novel of elegiac beauty.
ANITA DESAI is the author of Fasting, Feasting, Baumgartner’s Bombay, Clear Light of Day, and Diamond Dust, among other works. Three of her books have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Desai was born and educated in India and now lives in the New York City area.