The Zigzag Way
Anita Desai
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Buy *The Zigzag Way* by Anita Desai

The Zigzag Way

Anita Desai
176 pages
February 2006
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars
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A young man drifting in his chosen career path, bored with the topic of his dissertation and a grant for publishing a book on immigration, Eric is caught up in an endless cycle of wasted days. On the other hand, his highly motivated girlfriend is focused, engaged in her own work, soon to travel to Yucatan for extensive research with fellow scientists.

Sensing Emilyís ambivalence toward their relationship, Eric lobbies for an opportunity to travel with her. Sublimating his increasing angst in preparation for the trip, he remains certain that Mexico will yield the impetus he is lacking and invigorate his sagging self-discipline and commitment to his project.

Eric is immediately stunned by the color and beauty of Mexico, the unflinching brightness of the days a sharp contrast to his native Boston. With Emily soon to leave for the interior, Eric walks the streets of the city, drinking up local culture and attending lectures he cannot understand with his limited knowledge of Spanish, content to passively absorb his new surroundings. Yet in one lecture the names of places stimulate his unconscious, releasing barely remembered stories told in his childhood in Cornwall, England, tales of mining in exotic places, of hardship, revolution and loss.

Suddenly those long-buried fragments of conversations become vitally important, fragile links to the past and his grandfatherís life as a miner in Mexico. Eric learns, albeit tangentially, of familial ties to the region that have remained dormant all these years, waiting to be rediscovered in this time, in this place.

As the annual celebration of the Day of the Dead approaches, Eric uncovers a legacy that changes his definition of himself and the direction of his life. Struggling with his discoveries in the Sierra Madre and his connection to the Australian wife of a mining baron, the enigmatic Dona Vera, Eric realizes it is she who holds the key to his past.

With an intimation of darker personal histories buried in the calm veneer of civilization, secrets lurk in the brilliant local color and lore of the Sierra Madre. A violent history comes to light in the bitter language of a widow who murmurs the mellifluous words of Ericís memory, the shy East Coast scholar drawn inexplicably to his past.

Desaiís prose is evocative, voices that would speak of brutality and injustice muted by the layers of years. An unwitting vehicle, Eric uncovers a time of turmoil and violence where turn-of-the-century Cornwall meets the harsh world of mining under the impossibly brilliant skies of Mexico, where sacred peyote grows at the surface of the earthís rich ores, the world of the living mixed with the world of the dead on Dia de los Muertos.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2006

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