Desai is the daughter of Anita Desai, herself short-listed for the Booker Prize on three occasions. She was born in Chandigarh on the 3rd of September, and spent the early years of her life in Pune and Mumbai. She studied in the Cathedral and John Connon School. She left India at 14, and she and her mother then lived in England for a year, and then moved to the United States, where she studied creative writing at Bennington College, Hollins University, and Columbia University
Her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, was published in 1998 and received Praise from such notable figures as Salman Rushdie.It won the Betty Trask Award a prize given by the Society of Authors for the best new novels by Citizenship citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations under the age of 35.Her second book, The Inheritance of Loss, 2006 was widely praised by critics throughout Asia, Europe and the United States. It won the 2006 Man Booker Prize, as well as the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award.In August 2008, Desai was a guest on Private Passions, the biographical music discussion programme hosted by Michael Berkeley on BBC Radio 3.In May 2007 she was the featured author at the inaugural Asia House Festival of Cold Literature.She was awarded a 2013 Berlin Prize Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin.