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The Zigzag Way

2.94  ·  Rating Details ·  354 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
In The Zigzag Way, the critically acclaimed novelist Anita Desai offers a gorgeously nuanced story of expatriates and travelers adrift in an unfamiliar land. Eric, a young American historian, has come to Mexico on his first trip abroad. His search for his immigrant family’s roots brings him to a town in the Sierrra Madre, where a hundred years earlier Cornish miners toiled ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published February 17th 2006 by Mariner Books (first published 2004)
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Apr 13, 2013 Arun rated it it was ok
Not much of a Desai-type story.
Story about a young man Eric, who was a crumbling failure and his live-in partner Em, a booming success. While he was struggling, striving with no interest, to finish a thesis his professors had told him to, she goes on a field-trip to Mexico with her fellow doctors and scientists to do research. Bored, out of lost inspiration to continue the thesis, and out of need for fresh inspiration to write on something else, he, too, after some entreaty, joins their troop an
Jan 04, 2010 Vikas rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Zigzag Way- After reading I am assured the author literally wrote a zigzag fiction.
This book is really insightful if you wana know about Mexican history mainly revolving around silver mines during the time of revolution. Some books make me Google once I finish the book; this definitely made me read more on Mexican history especially the Huichols and their traditions. (The last book of this kind I read was “A long long way" by Sebastian Barry which even made me watch the movie “The wind that
Sep 26, 2007 Sierra rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: folks who like travel narratives complicated by politics and confessions of longing
This feels more like a novella to me. The themes are overt: grad student stalled on his thesis about immigration patterns follows his driven scientist girlfriend on her field work, where he ends up trying to trace his own English family's migration from Cornwall to Mexico to work in the silver mines that boomed before the Mexican Revolution, and comes to a place where his perspective may be radically altered. However, Desai's writing is gorgeous, and her thinking about the themes she makes ...more
Jan 19, 2013 Meenakshi rated it did not like it
I think Anita Desai is not my type.Picking up Anita Desai had been a very big mistake.I somehow cannot relate to her characters which seem phoney and superficial to me.
The last Anita Desai's book (Fire in the mountain)that I read was also a huge dissapointment and this one was no less.I think it will be unfair to compare Fire in the Mountain and The Zigzag way as they both have been a terrible experience but still if I have to choose between the two it will be this one which seems less boring.I
Feb 26, 2013 Pascale rated it really liked it
Another winner from Anita Desai. The protagonist who initially seems to follow his girl-friend on a field trip to Mexico for lack of a better plan turns out to be investigating his family's past without quite realising it at first. Half-forgotten memories of short exchanges with his father lead him on a quest back to the mining village where his Cornish grand-father once worked, and lost his young wife. Although it's a short book it almost has an epic quality to it as the links between the past ...more
Ellen Snyder
Nov 09, 2014 Ellen Snyder rated it it was ok
Didn't quite understand the point of the book, given it's abrupt and supernatural ending. The writing and descriptions are great. The author's representation of Mexico are spot on. Not really sure, though, what ties the various vignettes together.

Jan 14, 2012 Nicole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
For some reason getting through this was a real slog, and I only started getting into this right near the end. A very slim novel, at about 180 pages, took me 10 days! I suspect it's more to do with my current knackered-ness, than the actual book, as it's beautifully written.

Even with the slogging, I managed to glean a couple of things out of the novel, but am left feeling like I've missed the point. Or maybe that is the point?

(view spoiler)
Al Gellene
Oct 10, 2010 Al Gellene rated it really liked it
Eric and Emily, he calls her Em' for short, live in a cozy Boston apartment, cozily pursuing their postgraduate work. Emily is a scientist. Eric is working on a dissertation on immigration patterns in the US. But Eric is not fulfilled by his research. He would rather sit and drink coffee and watch the world pass him by. He is tempted to throw his dissertation away.

Emily is not particularly pleased with Eric's growing lassitude. It contrasts sharply with her immersion in her subject. A point of
Oct 17, 2013 Ruth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'But how strange, Eric, not to know where your dad was born!'
'Well, you know my family is strange. You've always said that,' he teased her.
'But as strange as that! I never guessed. Why hadn't he told you before?'
'I suppose because he doesn't remember a thing about it. He was taken to England as an infant and brought up there. Mexico is just a fairy tale to him.'
'Oh,' Em yawned. There seemed no point in pursuing a conversation that had no substance. She settled deeper into the seat, putting h
Andy Quan
Nov 20, 2011 Andy Quan rated it liked it
At university, with the incomparable Geoffrey Eathorne as our professor for our Commonwealth Literature course at Trent University in Canada, I read Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day. It was a stand out. I don't remember it perfectly but that it had beautiful writing and I enjoyed the story.

Two decades letter, I haven't read anything by her since and saw 'The Zigzag way' on the shelf of a favourite used bookstore. The story is set in Mexico, a young academic, aimless, looking for his past and som
Feb 05, 2016 Manish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With his PhD thesis work going nowhere, Eric decides to tag along with his girlfriend for her PhD field work in Mexico in the hope of attaining sudden inspiration and some direction to a rudderless life. The sights and sounds of Mexico suddenly brings back a vague memory of his grandfather's confession of the fact that he had once upon a time toiled in the mines of Mexico and had left with the birth of his father. Armed with the curiosity of trying to locate the town where his grandfather would ...more
Feb 13, 2016 Wendy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I felt this story got off to a slow start, but halfway through it picked up and I really enjoyed it. Eric is a writer who has no problem with idleness, much to the dismay of his scientist girlfriend. Despite her apprehension that he will be bored in Mexico while she is working he tags along. At some point he remembers that his father, a fisherman in Maine, was born in Mexico. Eric's memory of a visit with his grandfather in Cornwall is jarred by a speaker he happened upon and he sets off on a ...more
May 19, 2012 Jody rated it liked it
Like Fasting, Feasting not fantastic writing, but a well-woven story that feeds itself life and intimacy with the very interesting characters. That weaving of the story lines was the author's artistry that I was most impressed with. The story is of a young man who is flailing a bit post his graduate work. He is in a relationship, and if there is one gap in the story it was not clear to me at why these two are together! So while the story portrays them as a solid couple, I didn't feel it. His gir ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Desai invokes her renowned lush, and occasionally dense, prose to portray Eric's sensory overload here. She obviously speaks with intimate knowledge of the land, and this, combined with the wealth of historical detail, prompt several critics to sing her praises. More importantly, as The New York Times notes, The Zigzag Way is "not just a condensed course in 20th-century Mexican history but a meditation on the futility of our efforts to outrun the past." In other words, Desai does her job. Eric i

Aug 22, 2015 NikolayM rated it it was amazing
"Därnäst lurade Rosa med honom på en ännu svårare kurs, med feministisk inriktning. Där visade han sig vara den ende manlige studenten. Han härdade ut hela terminen trots att Rosa grillade honom efter varenda föreläsning, ryckte åt sig anteckningsboken för att se vad han hade brytt sig om att skriva ner på de mestadels tomma sidorna, för att sedan slänga den i ansiktet på honom om hon bara hittade lite planlöst klotter och undra varför han inte var lika hängiven som hon själv. Eric tyckte att ...more
Kathy  Petersen
Certain fiction set in Mexico – Night of the Iguana, Touch of Evil, novels whose titles I’ve lost - seems to remind me of Under the Volcano, which I read when I was about 12 and read again as an adult and found the same sort of bleak enchantment. The Zigzag Way evoked that kind of understated – even unstated – spiritual landscape that strongly affects the personnel of the story (and me). Like those spare folksongs we resurrected in the ‘60s, there’s more than meets the ear and the eye, and it’s ...more
Apurva Verma
Nov 01, 2013 Apurva Verma rated it liked it
after reading anita desai's FAST AND FEASTING.........HAD high expectations from this one........alas.........more like a travelogue.....but yeah KUDOS!!!! her for picturesque and vivid.....DESCRIPTION....!!!i was not glued to it throughout.....but yeah last pages definitely evokes interest......the protagonist........ERIC and his quest emanates...interest to a certain point...FIND dona vera's CHARACHTER INTRIGUING.........!! WORTH TURNING pages.......NOT FOR ANITA DESAI'S HARDCORE ...more
Apr 17, 2010 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gen-fiction, signed
Good book, but I may be biased. I typed the manuscript for the paperback edition when I was an intern at Penguin, so the author kindly signed a copy of the book for me. It was a very intimate way to read the story--literally letter to word to sentence to paragraph. I find myself wondering now if my experience of the book would be different if read as a whole rather than by the small parts of a whole.
Jasmin Kay
Nov 21, 2013 Jasmin Kay rated it liked it
This book wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either so I guess it was a decent, good book in my opinion. There were some parts that were interesting and a bit suspenseful through out the book, but my interest did not last and I got bored here and there. I don't want to say anything and spoil parts of the story, but if you're interested or a fan of culture, traveling, or/and with a mix of modern fiction, then I recommend this book.
Feb 13, 2008 martin rated it liked it
I can't figure this book out.

Three different but interconnecting stories linked fairly loosely by the silver mines of Mexico and the Cornishmen and native Americans who worked in them. I enjoyed the descriptions and the stories but was left wondering "why write it?"
I found it a little anti-climactic and still haven't understood the common theme between the various threads in the story (other than mining and Mexico)
Aug 22, 2014 Suvi rated it it was ok
Promised more and could have been more. I like anthropology, I like history and I like travel literature, so I should have loved this book, but I didn't. A short book, finished it in two days, but forgot about it nearly as quickly, only remembered reading it after coming on Good Reads. I think I didn't care for the main character much and the way the book was written made me remember other books rather than held me in it's grasp.
Oct 13, 2015 SmarterLilac rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at the way travel, but also the engrossing nature of cultures foreign to us can change and even radicalize an entire life. (Also a shrewd examination of the clash between the writer's consciousness and that of, well, everyone else around him. And maybe an acknowledgment that the writer-scientist relationship pairing is almost destined to fail every time.)
Jan 29, 2012 julieta rated it it was ok
Shelves: los-mas-o-menos
No conocía nada de Anita Desai, y no se si este fué lo mejor para empezar. Me gusta que mexico sea un elemento en la historia, pero no me parece nada del otro mundo la historia ni a donde la lleva. No pasa nada realmente importante, y ningun personaje llega a una conclusión.. las historias que se entremezclan tampoco llegan a ninguna parte.
Jillian Goldberg
Dec 04, 2011 Jillian Goldberg rated it liked it
Although the writing is beautifully crafted in a way one rarely finds in romantic novels today, I found it hard to connect to the characters. There was no one character that drew me in; it felt more like a review through a filter of nostalgia. I hoped to learn more about the indigineous people and the Cornish miners and the Spanish, but their characters remained elusive and vague.
Jane Ellis
Sep 06, 2016 Jane Ellis rated it liked it
I liked this book, but wasn't sure how much of my reaction stemmed from knowledge of and interest in Mexico and Mexican history. I found the story and writing most compelling when it focused on the grandparents' lives in Mexico. Did not feel sympathetic to the contemporary characters or their relationships.
Laurel Deloria
n The Zigzag Way, the critically acclaimed novelist Anita Desai offers a gorgeously nuanced story of expatriates and travelers adrift in an unfamiliar land. Eric, a young American historian, has come to Mexico on his first trip abroad. His search for his immigrant family 19s roots brings him to a..

A forced way of providing history, by an author w hose other book I liked
May 16, 2014 Heather rated it liked it
Shelves: own
vivid. memorable. something about one of the main characters, Dona Vera, annoyed me tremendously, made me just want to be done with the book altogether. but I pressed on, and there is a haunting beauty about it. I would have enjoyed one more chapter, to see what Eric does with this journey, how he brings his journey back to his prior life.
Jan 05, 2015 Jennyb rated it liked it
I only wish this were longer! It is wonderfully atmospheric, but spare in detail. When you read it, you will wish there were more pages, so that the interstices of the story could be filled in more fully. I wanted to buy a ticket to Mexico, and just disappear there for a while like the narrator did.
Diane Ramirez
Jul 11, 2008 Diane Ramirez rated it liked it
A touch of magical realism, a nice bit of cultural and historical background, a gorgeous setting that provided me with some imaginary vacation memories since this isn't the year for real ones (and their real costs). A very short book, The Zigzag Way was a whisp, a tease that *poofed* itself out of my world when I wanted more -- much like the spirits the Mexicans seek on dia do los muertos.
Elizabeth (Liz)
Dec 16, 2009 Elizabeth (Liz) rated it it was amazing
I feel like I learned more Mexico from this book that I by living here two years (although that could be a negative statement about how much I have learned by living here). Some people in my book group thought the ending didnt live up to the rest of the book, but I thought it tied it all together.
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Anita Desai was born in 1937. Her published works include adult novels, children's books and short stories. She is a member of the Advisory Board for English of the National Academy of Letters in Delhi and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London. Anita Mazumdar Desai is an Indian novelist and Emeritus John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of ...more
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