Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Inheritance of Loss

By Kiran Desai

Five Things I Liked About The Inheritance of Loss:
1. Sai and Gyan’s romance
2. Mutt the dog
3. Noni and Lola’s anglophilia and sisterly banter
4. Fluid backwards and forwards chronology
5. Vividness of setting (India!)

I read The Inheritance of Loss for my English class, but it’s the kind of book I might have picked up of my own accord anyway (one of the many things I love about college reading lists). Inheritance is another Booker Prize winner, but I found it far more enjoyable than the last one I read. Also, I’m a sucker for a pretty cover, and this one’s as pretty as they come! I will be proud to display this spine on my bookshelf, for more reasons than one.

The Inheritance of Loss takes place in the foothills of the Himalayas in a small Indian town called Kalimpong, and sets the personal lives of a small but diverse cast of characters against the backdrop of an Indian-Nepali insurgency led by the Gorkha National Liberation Front*. The arrival of his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, causes the hardened shell of a solitary judge to begin to crack, letting memories of the past seep into his consciousness and disturb his carefully cultivated stoicism. Meanwhile, the judge’s cook, who steps in as a makeshift father figure for Sai, lives off the hope he harbors for his son Biju, who is making his way in the New York underworld of immigrants and restaurant workers, hoping to earn a green card and enough money to return home to his father. Back in India, the Gorkha insurgency brings to the surface undercurrents of tension in the Kalimpong community between the Westernized elite and the indigenous poor, illustrated poignantly by the romance that blooms between Sai and her Nepali tutor, Gyan. At stake is not only the judge’s peace of mind, Biju’s success in America, or the future of Sai and Gyan’s fledgling romance, but the very culture of a nation, a hierarchical and historied way of life chafing against the past, present, and future all at once.

The Inheritance of Loss is divided into chapters, which are then divided into smaller sections by scene, sometimes a couple pages long, and sometimes only a few lines. The chapters alternate between Sai, the judge, and the cook in India and Biju in America, as well as between the judge’s past and the novel’s present. Desai’s writing is rich in imagery – color, sight, sound, and smell - bringing to life the lush exoticism of the Indian countryside (spiders, snakes, and scorpions made multiple appearances as merely a matter of course, *shiver*), the distinct and shifting voices, desires and fears, and convictions of the ensemble cast, and the nuances of a highly stratified country navigating a new layer of social complexity.

For some reason, The Inheritance of Loss seemed reminiscent of Jonathan Safran Foer’s work to me. Maybe it’s their shared ability to characterize large-scale social upheaval by focusing on the personalized conflicts of a handful of individuals, or their occasional playfulness with traditional style, or the high-resolution snapshot they give you of another culture’s daily circumstances, a sharply focused foreground of mundanity against the blurred background of the remarkable.

I’d recommend The Inheritance of Loss to anyone, but perhaps particularly to those who’ve enjoyed Memoirs of a GeishaEverything is Illuminated, or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

*If you don’t know what the GNLF is, don’t fret – I didn’t either. Basically, the GNLF campaigned to break off the Nepali-speaking areas of northern India into an independent state. Tensions arose, ensued, and were largely not overcome. The movement continues today.

Books Read This Year:
Top 100 Progress: 42/100


  1. AnonymousMay 14, 2011

    A gorgeous review of an exquisite book!

  2. AnonymousJune 01, 2013

    Very well written and yes inheritance of loss is definietly a grt read kudos 2 ms kiran desai for this breathtaking piece of ART