In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge’s cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another. Kiran Desai’s brilliant novel, published to huge acclaim, is a story of joy and despair. Her characters face numerous choices that majestically illuminate the consequences of colonialism as it collides with the modern world.
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The Inheritance of Loss
By Kiran Desai
Grove Atlantic, Inc.
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the
great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths. Briefly visible above
the vapor, Kanchenjunga was a far peak whittled out of ice, gathering the last of the light,
a plume of snow blown high by the storms at its summit.
Sai, sitting on the veranda, was reading an article about giant squid in an old National
Geographic. Every now and then she looked up at Kanchenjunga, observed its wizard
phosphorescence with a shiver. The judge sat at the far corner with his chessboard,
playing against himself. Stuffed under his chair where she felt safe was Mutt the dog,
snoring gently in her sleep. A single bald lightbulb dangled on a wire above. It was cold,
but inside the house, it was still colder, the dark, the freeze, contained by stone walls
several feet deep.
Here, at the back, inside the cavernous kitchen, was the cook, trying to light the damp
wood. He fingered the kindling gingerly for fear of the community of scorpions living,
loving, reproducing in the pile. Once he'd found a mother, plump with poison, fourteen
babies on her back.
Eventually, the fire caught and he placed his kettle on top, as battered, as encrusted as
something dug up by an archeological team,and waited for it to boil. The walls were
singed and sodden, garlic hung by muddy stems from the charred beams, thickets of soot
clumped batlike upon the ceiling. The flame cast a mosaic of shiny orange across the
cook's face, and his top half grew hot, but a mean gust tortured his arthritic knees.
Up through the chimney and out, the smoke mingled with the mist that was gathering
speed, sweeping in thicker and thicker, obscuring things in parts-half a hill, then the
other half. The trees turned into silhouettes, loomed forth, were submerged again.
Gradually the vapor replaced everything with itself, solid objects with shadow, and
nothing remained that did not seem molded from or inspired by it. Sai's breath flew from
her nostrils in drifts, and the diagram of a giant squid constructed from scraps of
information, scientists' dreams, sank entirely into the murk.
She shut the magazine and walked out into the garden. The forest was old and thick at the
edge of the lawn; the bamboo thickets rose thirty feet into the gloom; the trees were
moss-slung giants, bunioned and misshapen, tentacled with the roots of orchids. The
caress of the mist through her hair seemed human, and when she held her fingers out, the
vapor took them gently into its mouth. She thought of Gyan, the mathematics tutor, who
should have arrived an hour ago with his algebra book.
But it was 4:30 already and she excused him with the thickening mist.
When she looked back, the house was gone; when she climbed the steps back to the
veranda, the garden vanished. The judge had fallen asleep and gravity acting upon the
slack muscles, pulling on the line of his mouth, dragging on his cheeks, showed Sai
exactly what he would look like if he were dead.
"Where is the tea?" he woke and demanded of her. "He's late," said the judge, meaning
the cook with the tea, not Gyan. "I'll get it," she offered.
The gray had permeated inside, as well, settling on the silverware, nosing the corners,
turning the mirror in the passageway to cloud. Sai, walking to the kitchen, caught a
glimpse of herself being smothered and reached forward to imprint her lips upon the
surface, a perfectly formed film star kiss. "Hello," she said, half to herself and half to
No human had ever seen an adult giant squid alive, and though they had eyes as big as
apples to scope the dark of the ocean, theirs was a solitude so profound they might never
encounter another of their tribe. The melancholy of this situation washed over Sai.
Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must
surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment.
Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion
The water boiled and the cook lifted the kettle and emptied it into the teapot.
"Terrible," he said. "My bones ache so badly, my joints hurt-I may as well be dead. If
not for Biju...." Biju was his son in America. He worked at Don Pollo-or was it The
Hot Tomato? Or Ali Baba's Fried Chicken? His father could not remember or understand
or pronounce the names, and Biju changed jobs so often, like a fugitive on the run-no
"Yes, it's so foggy," Sai said. "I don't think the tutor will come." She jigsawed the cups,
saucers, teapot, milk, sugar, strainer, Marie and Delite biscuits all to fit upon the tray.
"I'll take it," she offered.
"Careful, careful," he said scoldingly, following with an enamel basin of milk for Mutt.
Seeing Sai swim forth, spoons making a jittery music upon the warped sheet of tin, Mutt
raised her head. "Teatime?" said her eyes as her tail came alive.
"Why is there nothing to eat?" the judge asked, irritated, lifting his nose from a muddle of
pawns in the center of the chessboard.
He looked, then, at the sugar in the pot: dirty, micalike glinting granules. The biscuits
looked like cardboard and there were dark finger marks on the white of the saucers.
Never ever was the tea served the way it should be, but he demanded at least a cake or
scones, macaroons or cheese straws. Something sweet and something salty. This was a
travesty and it undid the very concept of teatime.
"Only biscuits," said Sai to his expression. "The baker left for his daughter's wedding."
"I don't want biscuits."
"How dare he go for a wedding? Is that the way to run a business? The fool. Why can't
the cook make something?"
"There's no more gas, no kerosene."
"Why the hell can't he make it over wood? All these old cooks can make cakes perfectly
fine by building coals around a tin box. You think they used to have gas stoves, kerosene
stoves, before? Just too lazy now."
The cook came hurrying out with the leftover chocolate pudding warmed on the fire in a
frying pan, and the judge ate the lovely brown puddle and gradually his face took on an
expression of grudging pudding contentment.
They sipped and ate, all of existence passed over by nonexistence, the gate leading
nowhere, and they watched the tea spill copious ribbony curls of vapor, watched their
breath join the mist slowly twisting and turning, twisting and turning.
Nobody noticed the boys creeping across the grass, not even Mutt, until they were
practically up the steps. Not that it mattered, for there were no latches to keep them out
and nobody within calling distance except Uncle Potty on the other side of the jhora
ravine, who would be drunk on the floor by this hour, lying still but feeling himself pitch
about-"Don't mind me, love," he always told Sai after a drinking bout, opening one eye
like an owl, "I'll just lie down right here and take a little rest-"
They had come through the forest on foot, in leather jackets from the Kathmandu black
market, khaki pants, bandanas-universal guerilla fashion. One of the boys carried a gun.
Later reports accused China, Pakistan, and Nepal, but in this part of the world, as in any
other, there were enough weapons floating around for an impoverished movement with a
ragtag army. They were looking for anything they could find-kukri sickles, axes,
kitchen knives, spades, any kind of firearm.
They had come for the judge's hunting rifles.
Despite their mission and their clothes, they were unconvincing. The oldest of them
looked under twenty, and at one yelp from Mutt, they screamed like a bunch of
schoolgirls, retreated down the steps to cower behind the bushes blurred by mist. "Does
she bite, Uncle? My God!"-shivering there in their camouflage.
Mutt began to do what she always did when she met strangers: she turned a furiously
wagging bottom to the intruders and looked around from behind, smiling, conveying both
shyness and hope.
Hating to see her degrade herself thus, the judge reached for her, whereupon she buried
her nose in his arms.
The boys came back up the steps, embarrassed, and the judge became conscious of the
fact that this embarrassment was dangerous for had the boys projected unwavering
confidence, they might have been less inclined to flex their muscles.
The one with the rifle said something the judge could not understand.
"No Nepali?" he spat, his lips sneering to show what he thought of that, but he continued
in Hindi. "Guns?"
"We have no guns here."
"You must be misinformed."
"Never mind with all this nakhra. Get them."
"I order you," said the judge, "to leave my property at once." "Bring the weapons."
"I will call the police."
This was a ridiculous threat as there was no telephone.
They laughed a movie laugh, and then, also as if in a movie, the boy with the rifle pointed
his gun at Mutt. "Go on, get them, or we will kill the dog first and you second, cook third,
ladies last," he said, smiling at Sai.
"I'll get them," she said in terror and overturned the tea tray as she went.
The judge sat with Mutt in his lap. The guns dated from his days in the Indian Civil
Service. A BSA five-shot barrel pump gun, a .30 Springfield rifle, and a double-barreled
rifle, Holland & Holland. They weren't even locked away: they were mounted at the end
of the hall above a dusty row of painted green and brown duck decoys.
"Chtch, all rusted. Why don't you take care of them?" But they were pleased and their
bravado bloomed. "We will join you for tea."
"Tea?" asked Sai in numb terror.
"Tea and snacks. Is this how you treat guests? Sending us back out into the cold with
nothing to warm us up." They looked at one another, at her, looked up, down, and
She felt intensely, fearfully female.
Of course, all the boys were familiar with movie scenes where hero and heroine,
befeathered in cosy winterwear, drank tea served in silver tea sets by polished servants.
Then the mist would roll in, just as it did in reality, and they sang and danced, playing
peekaboo in a nice resort hotel. This was classic cinema set in Kulu-Manali or, in
preterrorist days, Kashmir, before gunmen came bounding out of the mist and a new kind
of film had to be made.
The cook was hiding under the dining table and they dragged him out.
"Ai aaa, ai aaa," he joined his palms together, begging them, "please, I'm a poor man,
please." He held up his arms and cringed as if from an expected blow.
"He hasn't done anything, leave him," said Sai, hating to see him humiliated, hating even
more to see that the only path open to him was to humiliate himself further.
"Please living only to see my son please don't kill me please I'm a poor man spare me."
His lines had been honed over centuries, passed down through generations, for poor
people needed certain lines; the script was always the same, and they had no option but to
beg for mercy. The cook knew instinctively how to cry.
These familiar lines allowed the boys to ease still further into their role, which he had
handed to them like a gift.
"Who wants to kill you?" they said to the cook. "We're just hungry, that's all. Here, your
sahib will help you. Go on," they said to the judge, "you know how it should be done
properly." The judge didn't move, so the boy pointed the gun at Mutt again.
The judge grabbed her and put her behind him.
"Too soft-hearted, sahib. You should show this kind side to your guests, also. Go on,
prepare the table."
The judge found himself in the kitchen where he had never been, not once, Mutt
wobbling about his toes, Sai and the cook too scared to look, averting their gaze.
It came to them that they might all die with the judge in the kitchen; the world was upside
down and absolutely anything could happen. "Nothing to eat?"
"Only biscuits," said Sai for the second time that day.
"La! What kind of sahib?" the leader asked the judge. "No snacks! Make something,
then. Think we can continue on empty stomachs?"
Wailing and pleading for his life, the cook fried pakoras, batter hitting the hot oil, this
sound of violence seeming an appropriate accompaniment to the situation.
The judge fumbled for a tablecloth in a drawer stuffed with yellowed curtains, sheets, and
rags. Sai, her hands shaking, stewed tea in a pan and strained it, although she had no idea
how to properly make tea this way, the Indian way. She only knew the English way.
The boys carried out a survey of the house with some interest. The atmosphere, they
noted, was of intense solitude. A few bits of rickety furniture overlaid with a termite
cuneiform stood isolated in the shadows along with some cheap metal-tube folding
chairs. Their noses wrinkled from the gamy mouse stench of a small place, although the
ceiling had the reach of a public monument and the rooms were spacious in the old
manner of wealth, windows placed for snow views. They peered at a certificate issued by
Cambridge University that had almost vanished into an overlay of brown stains blooming
upon walls that had swelled with moisture and billowed forth like sails. The door had
been closed forever on a storeroom where the floor had caved in. The storeroom supplies
and what seemed like an unreasonable number of emptied tuna fish cans, had been piled
on a broken Ping-Pong table in the kitchen, and only a corner of the kitchen was being
used, since it was meant originally for the slaving minions, not the one leftover servant.
"House needs a lot of repairs," the boys advised.
"Tea is too weak," they said in the manner of mothers-in-law. "And not enough salt,"
they said of the pakoras. They dipped the Marie and Delite biscuits in the tea, drew up
the hot liquid noisily. Two trunks they found in the bedrooms they filled with rice, lentils,
sugar, tea, oil, matches, Lux soap, and Pond's Cold Cream. One of them assured Sai:
"Only items necessary for the movement." A shout from another alerted the rest to a
locked cabinet. "Give us the key."
The judge fetched the key hidden behind the National Geographics that, as a young man,
visualizing a different kind of life, he had taken to a shop to have bound in leather with
the years in gold lettering.
They opened the cabinet and found bottles of Grand Marnier, amontillado sherry, and
Talisker. Some of the bottles' contents had evaporated completely and some had turned
to vinegar, but the boys put them in the trunk anyway.
There were none. This angered them, and although there was no water in the tanks, they
defecated in the toilets and left them stinking. Then they were ready to go.
"Say, 'Jai Gorkha,'" they said to the judge. "Gorkhaland for Gorkhas."
"Say, 'I am a fool.'"
"I am a fool."
"Loudly. Can't hear you, huzoor. Say it louder." He said it in the same empty voice.
"Jai Gorkha," said the cook, and "Gorkhaland for Gorkhas," said Sai, although they had
not been asked to say anything. "I am a fool," said the cook.
Chuckling, the boys stepped off the veranda and out into the fog carrying the two trunks.
One trunk was painted with white letters on the black tin that read: "Mr. J. P. Patel, SS
Strathnaver." The other read: "Miss S. Mistry, St. Augustine's Convent." Then they were
gone as abruptly as they had appeared.
"They've gone, they've gone," said Sai. Mutt tried to respond despite the fear that still
inhabited her eyes, and she tried to wag her tail, although it kept folding back between
her legs. The cook broke into a loud lament:
"Humara kya hoga, hai hai, humara kya hoga," he let his voice fly. "Hai, hai, what will
become of us?"
"Shut up," said the judge and thought, These damn servants born and brought up to
scream. He himself sat bolt upright, his expression clenched to prevent its distortion,
tightly clasping the arms of the chair to restrict a violent trembling, and although he knew
he was trying to stop a motion that was inside him, it felt as if it were the world shaking
with a ravaging force he was trying to hold himself against. On the dining table was the
tablecloth he had spread out, white with a design of grapevines interrupted by a garnet
stain where, many years ago, he had spilled a glass of port while trying to throw it at his
wife for chewing in a way that disgusted him.
Excerpted from The Inheritance of Loss
by Kiran Desai
Copyright © 2006 by Kiran Desai.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Was it not Orhan Pamuk that said that an author who has not experienced poverty should not attempt to write about it? Kiran Desai has violated this maxim and her elitist attitude and class status are clearly evident. "The Inheritance of Loss" is virtually an unreadable novel for several reasons. However, before I go into these, and another commenter calls me and other "negative" commenters "rubes," I should state that I have been studying and reading literature for thirty years and am a civil rights attorney. Ms. Desai's novel fails in several areas: characterization, dialogue, grammar, sentence construction, flow of the prose, and moral obligation to the subjects. Every character in this novel has the same voice and interior monologue. All the voices are juvenile at best and immature at worst despite the age of the character. (e.g., p. 3, during the judge's interior monologue, he thinks, "Never ever was the tea . . ." May I ask, which adult male uses the term "Never ever" verbally or in his own mind? Similarly, the cook thinks in his interior monologue on page 10. "They had guns now, which they might clean of rust, fill with bullets, and . . . shoot!" A grown man with average intelligence would not think in such childlike terms.) Further, you do not "know" the characters since each of them appear to be the same in tone, thoughts and personality. Unlike, perhaps, the deep and vivid characters in Jhumpa Lahiri's work, Desai's characters are flat, sterotypical and robotic. Ms. Desai's use of dialogue is unrealistic and stilted as well. If you read her dialogue out loud with another person, you will realize that people do not talk in that manner. Grammatically, Ms. Desai's book is rife with a plethora of errors that read to a person like fingernails scratching down the literary blackboard of the soul. The novel reads like an exotic Sophie Kinsella novel. She overuses adverbs and adjectives in a superfluous manner. She uses the same word redundantly in the sentence. (e.g., p. 8, the word "hanging" is used twice in one sentence.) Perhaps, she could make use of a thesaurus. Virtually on every page, she misuses dependent clauses such that actions occur simultaneously, which could not happen at the same time. There is a more creative way to design similes and metaphors than by always using the word "as." This writing distracts from the flow of a novel. The most egregious part of Ms. Desai's book is that it humiliates and debases people of poverty, people not of her socio-economic class and caste. She presents all the impoverished characters as though they were weak, powerless, unintelligent and prideless. Apparently, Ms. Desai has had very few negative and/or real life experiences and has lived in a privileged bubble as shown by her insensitivity in the text. (e.g., page 6 when describing the cook: "His lines had been honed over centuries, passed down through generations, for poor people needed certain lines; the script was always the same, and they had no option but to beg for mercy. The cook knew instinctively how to cry." This is insulting and degrading. Also, on page 11, she writes "He was a powerless man, barely enough learning to read and write, had worked like a donkey all his life...." Perhaps, she should listen to her dear friend Orhan Pamuk.
I really wish I had read the reviews before buying this book. I can't believed it received such acclaim. The author clearly has style--her narration is chock-full of little spot-on anecdotes--but her character and plot development are nonexistent. I have felt more connected to cartoon characters. Maybe I just didn't get it, missed the point, but by the time I was halfway through, I hated the book so much that I didn't care anymore about the fact that it was over my head. I will never again purchase a book based solely on its receipt of the National Book Critics Circle Award or the Man Booker Prize.
I am an AVID reader and HATE not finishing a book, but I just could not get through this one. I am usually eager to read and find out what happens next, but picking up this book was painful each time and I decided to just give up. If you like books that discuss political issues this might be for you, but I prefer great characters that you learn to love/hate/empathize with etc. and I did not find that in The Inheritance of Loss.
The story made me curious enough to continue reading to the end but most of the characters were unlikeable people. There was a great deal of turmoil in the story that didn't seem to have a point until near the end of the book when the historical political implications were made apparent. This story could serve as the basis for book club discussions about empirialism and hegemony with extrapolation to contemporary events.
I love historical novels, but the history here wasn't presented clearly, and the characters and story were boring. Only Biju came alive for me - I wish there'd been more about him. The other characters and their backgrounds (each representing some social or political group, to drive home the historical points), all became a blur. I enjoyed learning more about the upheaval/conflicts in India at that time, but it was a long, slow read, and the melodrama at the end felt contrived.
I thought this would be a good book, but it turned out to be confusing, wildly random and difficult to follow.
This book was a sore disappointment. In one short novel, Desai manages to make Indians an object of ridicule. While I'm not one to sugarcoat real life, what Desai does is go down the opposite path and paint a picture that is worse than reality. Her description of the emigrates to the West was especially deplorable which is a pity seeing that many people are going to take it as what really happens.This book winning the Booker Prize is a joke. It's not even well-written and loses the reader many times. It was hard getting through this book, and when I did, I wish I'd never bothered.
Not a bad read, although is was overall more sad than anything. Desai's writing style was engaging and kept me interested. The novel is mainly set in Kolimpang, India near Darjeeling which was new to me so it inspired me to do a bit of online info browsing. I am glad I did because it gave me a sense of how truly beautiful the area appears. The rest of the book is set in rural England or New York City. One of the major themes addressed is the complexities of immigration and identity in one's adopted land. There are interesting comparisons made between Bengalese immigrants in New York and Nepalese immigrants in Bengal. Desai throws in some quick but scathing scenes regarding tourists in Darjeeling which made me more introspective than any other part in the book. As far as "loss" and its inheritance goes, there is quite a bit. At first I thought the dog bit was a little cheap, because I am sucker for dogs, but she tied it in appropriately with the rest of the themes of the book. Lastly, and I personally don't feel that this has anything to do with the merits of Desai's writing, but I found it somewhat strange that some current residents of Kalimpong resent the way that Desai represented the Nepalese population in the book. I didn't really get a sense that there were any negative aspects laid on Nepalese people as a whole anywhere in the story. If anything I thought the grandfather was the most despicable character and in a sense he represented mainly opposite themes than the Nepalese. Perhaps someday I will visit myself and gain some insight, and I will try not to do some of the degrading things the tourists do in Desai's novel.
Beautiful descriptions of place. I was forced to read and reread most paragraphs in order to discern the complete meaning of the writing. Worth the effort.
My reaction as well to The Inheritance of Loss: WTF? And I couldn't get through it. [This was in response to others that mentioned this novel as one that they couldn't finish.]Get this, I was in West Bengal--Darjeeling and surrounding areas--when that book won a big prize. I guess it was the Booker. The book is supposed to take place in Kalimpong, I think--but near enough. We're talking Nepali hill and mountain country.So borrowed it when I got home. I think familiarity with that area, or even India in general, makes for a more tiresome reading experience. This area had a longtime separatist insurgency (but I repeat myself, this is northeast India) in the 1970's, but you can sense the lingering effects. Oh, also, this isn't an area that has felt much effect yet of take-off economy elsewhere in the country. So, physically, it wouldn't have changed much. Still a lot of poverty. Middle-class people still don't have refrigerators, etc.So I kept hoping that it would get to the insurgency--how does it feel to know that people around you are secretly fighters? How do you live with this low-level fear all the time? The servant with the son in the U.S. seemed to ring true (except when does this take place? It isn't the 1990's yet?). Overall, the style seemed very old, very tired, too much in debt to the gentility of a much older, more timid generation.Indians are very literary, so there was due diligence given to the award and Desai in the press, but I didn't see an actual review anywhere. The book was in the bookstore much frequented by (mostly) Indian tourists in Darjeeling but none of my acquaintances in Darjeeling seem charged to read it. For sure, the Bangladeshi guy winning the Nobel was a much bigger deal in West Bengal.I've got to confess that I rarely read contemporary novels by any English or Scottish writers, unless the author is a product of the colonial backwash like Rushdie or Naipaul. I know this is also true of well-read Asians; they're more likely to read Latino authors in translations and of course estadounidenses. So I take it that the judges of prizes like this (I think the Booker only goes to "Commonwealth" countries, which leaves out the U.S. and some other former colonies) are really striving to go after the former colonials, to be more inclusive, to pick up a modern, cosmopolitan buzz: "We're more universal than you think! This is kinda sorta one of our own." Of course that's why the great Amitav Ghosh turned down ...if not this award, some other "Commonwealth" thing. Makes me wonder if there are a lot of other similar authors that say, "Please, count me out. Don't nominate me."
The winner of this year¿s prestigious (and my favourite) Booker prize is the second novel from second-generation author Kiran Desai. Her mother, Anita, was shortlisted three times and never won. Kiran herself, the youngest author to win the coveted prize, said that the prize did not mean much to her (this was all before she won, I haven¿t heard anything since) and that she felt the prize was too colonialistic because it is offered only to writers from the UK and the commonwealth. But all that aside, she won. I won¿t dispute the decision, hers is in fact the only one from the shortlist (which was packed with mainly lesser known authors and titles) that I have had the chance to read. I would like to preface my review by saying that I love Indian novels. I have read quite a few, and had a chance to spend six months in India myself, so when you read down (if you bother) and discover that I didn¿t much care for this book, know that I am comparing it to other books that explore similar themes, and exist in a similar time and/or place. This book simply isn¿t as good as ¿The God of Small Things¿, or ¿A Fine Balance¿, ¿Midnight¿s Children¿, or ¿A Suitable Boy¿. Granted all of these books are excellent (two other booker winners among them) and it may not be a fair comparison, but I just did not find the book to be particularly compelling. The characters are real, and full, they exist with decided truth, but I found their portraits to be slim. We learned very little about them, and I for one did not have an urge to find out that much more. Apparently the book was trimmed down to its reasonable three hundred or so pages from something closer to fifteen hundred. It was also shopped around for quite sometime before finding a publisher, which is surprising considering the success of her first novel (¿Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard¿). This made sense to me when I heard it. It feels as if there is a big sweeping novel in there. I didn¿t place this before I had heard of its extensive editing, but it feels as if it was pared down. There aren¿t any scenes missing, it still flows coherently and smoothly, but there is more to these characters which needed to be explored. There are many characters in the book, and most of them are given equal weight. The book does not manage to create a central character and develop her; instead all of the background characters are known to us just as well. In a larger novel this would mean that we would know the secondary characters extremely well, in this book it means we don¿t know much at all about our protagonist. This is not to say that this is a bad book. It is a good solid read. The time and place (or times and places more accurately) are evoked nicely, the characters do feel real and their decisions natural (if difficult); we just don¿t get enough of them. The writing is strong, and I can see that she has enormous potential as a writer. But to me in the end, this book did not deliver on all of its abundant promise. Perhaps one day we will see the full manuscript that she originally wrote, and we can enjoy a full picture of the characters, but for now all we have is a limited vision of an interesting world that she has conceived. If you liked this you might like¿./ If you liked¿ you might like this¿A Suitable Boy¿ by Vikram Seth¿The God of Small Things¿ by Arundhati Roy¿A Fine Balance¿ by Rohinton Mistry
A book that started out well but didn't really do it for me in the end. The plot centers around a small, mostly aging group of friends in Kashmir as civil unrest breaks out. Most of the characters are people from India's upper classes -- British educated, fixated on English products and with enough money to retire comfortably in mansions in the hills. Few of them have ever thought about the poverty and bigotry that exist around them until minority Indian-Nepalis begin to agitate for rights. What I enjoyed the most about this book was that it introduced me to so much about India that I didn't know existed -- both the natural terrain and the dozens of ethnic groups that populate the country. The subplot, the story of a village boy struggling as an illegal immigrant in New York, made me think hard about what it's like to grow up in a country that everyone is itching to escape. Those are the reasons for my 4-star rating. Here's what kept it from getting 5 stars: it seems that the point of the books is fairly obvious. Kiran Desai wants to show us that most of us are complacent, that we don't think about the people struggling around us until the evidence is right in front of our faces. She wants us to know that there is no easy answer to centuries-old injustices and that in the process of setting things right, new injustices will occur. I felt like a lot of the last 100 pages drove this point in over and over again. It's also a relentlessly depressing book. I left it feeling that immigration and introduction to foreign cultures destroys people and families and that the rifts it creates are impossible to heal. It is a thought-provoking and perhaps valid message, but I cannot personally connect to books that are so hopeless.
The story is set in the in the town of Kalimpong in Northeast India, close to the Nepal border. Here lives a retired English educated judge in a decaying house with his cook and dog, Mutt. He is soon to be joined by his orphaned granddaughter, Sai. Living in this far away town, the three live a tightly knit life. Sai is cut off from the world, except from the occasional distractions of two Anglophile sisters that live down the road and her young Nepalese tutor with whom she engages in a brief crush. The talkative cook, Sai¿s main companion, has his hopes and dreams focused on his son Biju who has been granted an American Visa and has travelled to New York in search of the ¿American Dream¿.The book tries to portray the cultural differences in society and provides a bitter sweet picture of how an immigrant must struggle to survive working illegal jobs at an Indian restaurant where the old class system still prevails, the French upstairs, the Indians downstairs. The writer dissects the dream of empire, old and new, and lays bare the idea of colonial modernity. It shows, without judgment, what happens to those who leave for a new life and yet find themselves outcasts both at home and abroad. It is a novel that manages to be both warm-hearted about human nature and clear-sighted about humanity's flaws. While reading The Inheritanc of Loss I thought that the story is mainly about solitude, and how the different characters in the story face this ¿isolation¿ througout the book.I thourougly enjoyed this book which deals with various themes, immigration, dislocation, multiculturism, ethnic differences and solitude combined with running themes such as food, language, nationalism and attitudes to colonialism supported by a beautiful poetic prose.
16 yr. old Sai, her grandfather the bitter judge, the judge's cook, live in a crumbling villa in northern India near the border with Nepal in the 1980s. The cook's son, Biju, has emigrated to New York where he experiences what it is to be an Indian immgrant in America. Sai's math tutor, Gyan, a young Nepali, gets involved in the Nepali independence movement which overturns all class and cultural institutions and the lives of all the characters. Each loses something irretrievably.
Fantastic writing, memorable characters, and a gripping combination of plots! It is no wonder that Desai won multiple awards for this novel The story is set in the Indian Himalayas and in New York City. It is the tale of the battle for identity in a new culture, in an old culture, and in a culture containing both. It is about the simplicity of life and love and its complexity. This is the story, as noted on the flyleaf, of big and small. Identity of self and country, love of a dog, betrayal to a lover, betrayer of a culture, hiding from truths and lies, and disillusionment everywhere. I know, sounds depressing, and thank goodness the author injects a wonderful wit to break it up. However, I will remember Sai, the Judge, Biju, Lola and Noni, Father Booty and many others for a long time. This is the type of powerful novel I thoroughly enjoy reading because it challenges my life assumptions about meaning.
The setting was the best feature of this novel, set in a town in northeastern India in the 80's. There is a Nepali nationalist movement which causes increased turmoil in the area as the lives of a retired Indian civil servant, his orphaned granddaughter, their cook with a son struggling in America, a young accountant who tutors then romances the granddaughter. The novel also focuses on the struggles of the cook's son in America; he has certainly not reached the promised land as he works long hours in low-paid restaurant jobs. Even though this book had well-detailed characters, interesting settings and musical language, it all failed to gel for me and I struggled to finish it.
A terrific novel set in northern India near the Nepal border. An embittered old judge finds himself the unlikely guardian of a young granddaughter. A parallel story line follows the saga of the judge's cook who has emigrated to New York in search of a better, more prosperous future. There is desperation and heartbreak in this story of striving for a different reality. Ultimately it is about what s the meaning of family and how has a nation's colonial past imprinted its present life.
This wouldn't be my usual choice of reading material but I am so glad that I bought it, on a whim! It took me a little while to get in to but once I did, I found it much more enjoyable than I had anticipated. I do have to say that I was disappointed with the ending, but will leave it at that rather than spoiling it for any other readers!
This Booker Prize winner is an excellent take on the destructive effects of colonialism, showing how early cultural destruction continues to warp the lives of later generations. I found the writing beautiful, and the story touching, but I never connected with most of the characters on a personal level. If I had, it would have been heartbreaking.
A recent Man Booker Award winner, Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss offers a powerful view of the impact of what happens when different societies, histories and traditions are thrown toward each other, whether through the lens of Britain's colonial rule in India (and subsequent consequences) or an Indian illegal immigrant's experience in New York City. She beautifully brings together a variety of perspectives through the stories of a few individuals, all of whom share much fewer than six degrees of separation.In many ways, it offers emotionally devastating events told with grace and beauty. Loss abounds: country, colonial ways, wealth, status, family, love, pride, dignity¿and the list goes on. Even when something is potentially gained, the resultant loss is seemingly at least its equal. "The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind¿"The Inheritance of Loss is filled with rich descriptions of the landscape, both majestic and squalid. There are also rich descriptions of events that shape characters, as well as their all too real struggles to understand, cope, survive, and move forward.There is sadness present throughout, but, just as in life, there are small rays of hope and redemption that manage to ultimately surface. "The five peaks of Kanchenjunga turned golden with the kind of luminous light that made you feel, if briefly, that truth was apparent."I recommend this book highly.
I like books in English that have settings in India. So far, I cannot tell if this is an exceptional example of this genre or not. It will take another reading.
The lasting problems of imperialism in India is illustrated in this book. However, it is a bit slow. The British are long gone but Indians who were educated as Brits are lost in a world that no longer esteems the protocols and values of Great Britain. A culture of poverty and cultural/ethnic conflict swirl around our six main characters who still embrace high tea. One young man seeks his dream in NYC to find a new kind of physical and cultural poverty. Slow at the beginning while the setting is established.
Intricately vowen, Desai's novel parallels the predicaments of two different generations of Indians who feel alienated from their native Indian environment due to their British education/upbringing.The story wittingly offers a portrayal of contemporary societal diversity across issues of class, gender, and cultural identity, exposing the inherent problematics of a national discourse that excludes and marginalizes ethno-cultural and religious minorities.Really a funny read!
I just completed reading Anita Desai¿s Booker winner Inheritance Of Loss, though not a kind of book one would skim back to back for hours together,to finish it. Its subtly satiric narration of a post-colonial India during 1980 . The story of a retired judge living a not so rosy life and couple of people associated to him in the backdrop of a scenic Kalimpong, a hill station in Himalayan foothill. The narration switches quickly between the first world and third world countries, exposing the stark differences and strangely revealing similarities between the lives we lead.The most striking feature of the book is the description and the delineation of the characters which are often confused, excited, depressed with a melange of emotions, Just as any of us. The book is dirty remainder of our suffering from various contradictions and confusions of reality and idea of someone or something. It succeeds in exposing the reader to thought process and nuances in ones mind,often subconsciously overlooked. The narration constantly is lit by moral and practical arguments one had to go through oneself. On a different note it did teach me things which I already know (latent things). Despite all this the book is never burdened with serious stuff, for it was craftly woven with humour. One can plain read,laugh it all and forget, while you can also read between lines and relate to oneself and interestingly very often.Read the book for its brilliant narration, subtle humour and its a masterpiece when it comes to details. Three cheers to Anita Desai for her well deserved Booker Prize.
I found this to be a very moving story. Although it started slowly, by the end I was so engrossed in the characters lives, that I was sorry she hadn't written a longer book. THe charater development is such that the author is able to paint broad images with only simple brush strokes. I am looking forward to reading more by Ms. Desai.