BY DEEPA PENDSE
For the Daily
Published January 24, 2005
Anita Desai is a writer of German and Indian origin whose previous work seems heavily influenced by her ancestry. “The Zig Zag Way,” however, is a clear departure because its roots find soil in Mexican history. Desai focuses on Mexico’s silver mining industry, treating it with personality and depth. The author creates thought-provoking analysis of a people who may not be considered often.
The story is a chronicle of self-discovery that also gives the reader an honest look at contemporary Mexico. Desai vividly portrays how Catholicism and pagan worship can meld together. She also deals with the cultural annihilation of Mexico’s indigenous people, a topic similar to the plight of American Indians. Desai writes about the Huichol, whose native lands are invaded by foreigners; missionaries and tourists have intruded upon their cultures and traditions. The author’s portrayal of the decay of the Huichol is profoundly saddening.
Desai exposes her characters’ personal histories without any censorship, yet throughout the tale she manages to keep their humanity intact. Her evocative prose softens the characters’ faults. The main character is Eric, a despondent historian fresh out of graduate school, working on his thesis. He follows his girlfriend to Mexico, but before leaving, his father tells him that he was actually born in that country. Investigating this matter further, Eric soon discovers a link between a silver mine and his past. His travels into an old mining village near Mexico City become the basis of this book, and through them readers learn about his family’s mysterious past. It is through Eric’s eyes that Desai unfolds a rich and colorful nation.
Desai offers her story as a mosaic from many perspectives rather than a simple straightforward narrative. Each character has his own past, and from them we also learn a part of Mexican history. In Desai’s description of one of the central characters, Do