“In my Beginning is my End”: Multidirectional Memory and the (Im)Possibility of Escaping the Holocaust in Anita Desai’s Baumgartner’s Bombay

  • Silvia Pellicer-Ortín Universidad de Zaragoza


Anita Desai’s novel Baumgartner’s Bombay (1988) makes evident its alliance with the determinist view of history according to which history repeats itself without allowing human agency to escape the occurrence of events. Baumgartner’s Bombay embodies this view by telling the story of Hugo Baumgartner, a man condemned to suffer the same destiny of exclusion and abuse all his life. My main aim is to demonstrate that, through this hybrid figure (German, Jewish, Indian), along with the circular structure of the novel and the repetitive use of images and metaphors evoking Otherness and alienation which this analysis discloses, Desai deploys the multidirectional model of memory, defined by Michael Rothberg as the overlap of individual and collective traumatic memories of different nations at different times. I conclude that Desai’s work exemplifies the way individual and collective Holocaust memories may be transposed to divergent traumatic events and conflicts, like those of the Partition and the British internment camps in India. Furthermore, it reveals how the examination of notions of Otherness and stereotypical identity formation can be helpful to understand the mechanisms that underlie the diverse episodes of genocide and trauma witnessed during the twentieth century.Keywords: Holocaust; multidirectional memory; Postcolonialism; history; Anita Desai; Otherness

Author Biography

Silvia Pellicer-Ortín, Universidad de Zaragoza
Silvia Pellicer-Ortín is Lecturer at the University of Zaragoza. Her main research interests are related to contemporary British literature, Trauma, Memory and Holocaust Studies, British-Jewish women writers, autobiography and feminism. She has published articles on these topics in Atlantis, Comparative Critical Studies, Humanities and The European Review. She has co-edited the volumes Trauma Narratives and Herstory (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), Memory Frictions in Contemporary Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and a special issue of the journal Critical Engagements (2012). She is also the author of Eva Figes’ Writings: A Journey through Trauma (Cambridge Scholars, 2015).


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