Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review: The Inheritance of Loss

Book: The Inheritance of Loss


Author: Kiran Desai

Awards: Man Booker Prize 2006

My short review: Deep subject, Intense Writing, Beautiful Writing, Tough to Read

My Rating: 4 Stars




Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai is definitely one of the most complicated books I have read. Complicated in the sense that it has way too much happening in it - a lot of layers and you need to peel away each layer to expose what she is trying to get at. I spent 2 weeks reading this book and I am not sure I have done justice to it. I feel that there’s so much more to the book that I have missed. But I guess that is the reason that this is a Man Booker Prize winner. I had a tough time with the book but I know that it totally deserves the award.



In such a situation, it is difficult to write a concise review for this book. I am going to do my best here but I would highly recommend that you pick this book up as well and work your way through it to truly understand what I am trying to express here.



The Inheritance of Loss is definitely not an easy read. It is a book that is divided into two. On one side is the slums of New York filled with illegal immigrants struggling to find a way to live the “American dream”. On the other side is Kalimpong – a town on the Indian side of the Himalayas – a seemingly peaceful setting which is rocked with conflict. The background for the Kalimpong part of the book is the Gurkha revolution (riots caused by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)) which happened in the late 1980s.



A very brief summary would probably say that the book is about the inhabitants of Cho Oyu (which is a dilapidated house in Kalimpong, a town on the Indian side of the Himalayas) and their associations.

Jemubhai Patel is a retired judge. He is rude, grumpy and arrogant. His grand daughter Sai comes to live with him (much against his wishes) when her parents die. She is an anglophile, just like her grand father but is different in all other aspects. She falls in love with her tutor Gyan who is a Nepali Gurkha. The cook is a master story teller who weaves fascinating stories about the judge and his son to make his mundane existence more exiting. The cook’s son, Biju, is in New York shuttling from one restaurant basement to another in an eternal chase for the elusive “green card” and of course to escape from the immigration officials.



Through the lives of these five characters, Kiran Desai addresses deeper issues such as the negative impact of globalization and the legacy of colonialism. This is a story of the emotional result of people going between the east and the west over many generations. This is a book that is not about how lovely multi-culturism is but about how difficult it is.



The overall tone of the book is pessimistic. Even towards the end, when you’d hope for everything to magically become better, Desai leaves the characters stranded as they are and that gives you a feeling of incompleteness. At times, the depth of the subject and the intensity of the writing overwhelmed me and I had to put the book down for a while before I could recharge myself to pick it up again.



In spite of all the difficulty in reading, I kept going only because Desai’s writing is a pleasure to read. Her descriptions are vivid – pleasurable when you can feel the cool Himalayan breeze but icky when it is a rat nibbling on your hair in the New York slums. At times, she can make you feel completely involved in the story and at other times, she makes you feel cold and uninvolved - like having a peep into your neighbor’s house. As I mentioned before, no review can do justice to this book. I wouldn’t easily recommend this book to everyone. It is definitely not an entertaining read and I would recommend it only if you are really in the mood to totally drown into the world as portrayed by Desai. If you are a literature fanatic like me, you should surely pick this book up – just to drown in and admire her style of writing.



Have you read this book? Then you know how inadequate my review is. I would love to hear your views on this one.



Haven’t read this one? What are your thoughts? Are you tempted to give this a shot?

22 comments:

S. Krishna said...

I read this book right after it came out, but I have to say I don't really remember it...

bermudaonion said...

I have to be in the right mood for books like this. Thanks for the review.

Ramya said...

@swapna - i know what you mean! I have been reading so many books lately tha I don't really remember what I felt about a book after a while.. I guess my blog really helps me that way.. i come right back, read my post and it all comes back to me!:)

@bermudaonion - that's true. You have to be in the mood to read this book.. but it is an amazing book!

Dar said...

You expressed yourself really well on this review Ramya. I have this novel on my shelf. I hope to get to it this year.

Serena said...

great review! I will post this on my good read tbr list.

Nymeth said...

I haven't read this yet, but it's on my wishlist, and you made me want to read it even more. It sounds like a book that demands time and commitment, but that is rewarding in the end.

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Ramya said...

@dar - thanks, dar!:) you always make me feel better when I know that i haven't done justice to a book!:)

@serena - awesome!:) glad you found the review interesting enough to add to your list:)

@nymeth - that's right. The effort that is spent in reading this is definitely rewarded.. not with a happy ending of course, but with a sense of satisfaction..:)

Kumari said...

Great review. Glad you finished the book and even liked it. I picked up the book from the library but somehow couldn't bring myself to read beyond the blurb :( Guess, I'm not in the mood for epic novels that are not set in Middle Earth :)

Anna said...

I think you did a great job with the review! Sounds like a heavy book. Don't think I could read it now, but it's worth considering later on.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Manju said...

These kind of books need a certain "mood" to read them..Coincidentally, started reading this book the day before your review came out..I agree that the writing is beautiful though. Quite early in the book, I understood the direction of the plot..and yet it is very heavy to read, like you said.

softdrink said...

I've read it and I think you nailed the review. It's incredibly vivid and yet there's something that's so hard to explain about it. I still have a picture of the judge's house in my head, yet I can't remember the ending!

Trish said...

Literature fanatic? Yup, that's me! I have this one on the shelf ready to be read, but I have to admit that I'm a little more intimidated now than I was when I bought the book. But I guess sometimes all that hard work can be rewarding. Sorry to hear that it is pessimistic throughout, though.

Pratima said...

This book has been lying i my shelf for almost a year now! I have tried reading it a couple of times and the max I have reached before giving up is about 5 pages. Somehow it just didnt seem to keep my interest. Will try it again, after reading your review!

bethany said...

I really did enjoy this when I read it (I actually listened to it which made it ever so better as she had a dreamy Indian accent) I really liked this one.

I think this one is far better than the better known The God of Small Things....I hated that one. Have you read TGOST?

Ramya said...

@ponc - i definitely takes a different mind set to read this one.. something like the god of small things, I guess.. have you read that one?

@anna - it is for one of those times when you actually want to read something deep and heavy!

@manju - good luck with reading this one.. let me know how it goes!

@jill - isn't that funny! I feel the same way too! Certain descriptions are so vivid that they are still fresh in my memory..the plot in general is not that captivating i guess!

@trish - read it! can't wait for your review of this!

@pratima - it is definitely a tough read.. no doubt about that.. and if you aren't in a mood for heavy reads, don't even go close to this one!:)

@bethany - was it narrated by the author herself? I listened to an interview of hers with npr and i agree, she does have a nice voice! and i agree with you about TGOST - i read it once, hated it.. tried picking it up the second time - abandoned it.. and i am sure i am going to give it another shot sometime!

A Hazra said...

You're right about this being tough to read. I've started on this book a million times (seems like it!) but I manage to get through about 20 pages before I stop. But I'm determined to keep on trying :)

wordjunkie said...

Hi. I liked the book, though I agree the mood was very pessimistic. But it did have a lot of humour too.

nishitak said...

I just loved, loved, loved this one. To me it is 5 star.

soul speaks said...

Hi Ramya, Got to your blog just by chance and I am happy , truly happy, to have found it. Your review of this book amazed me, I was a literature student and I love to read everything that comes my way, and time is also a big constraint, with two little ones to handle apart from a full time job. However, I had tried 'hard' to read, rather complete this book but it was really tough, and in your review when you aptly mentioned the word 'tough', I could so well relate to it. Since you have recommended it so highly, I would definitely grab it once again,and try to read it even if I am int the mood. By the way keep up the good work and you are truly amazing. take care. Rekha. Do drop in to my blog .

P. Rocerin said...

I choose to live every day like it is the last because let's be real, WHO THE HELL KNOWS what is going to happen or when it's your time to go on. The past is history, the future is a mystery and now is a gift, thats why it's called the present. It's not healthy to sit around and trip out about when you will die. Stop wasting your time you have now.

Pallavi Oberoi said...

I got the book from the library for winning Man Booker Prize.

I did not like the book. I struggled to even get an understanding of what age groups the characters were, old young, teenager?

The complete experience of reading this book was boredom and I was glad to just finish it. I did not particularly enjoy the writing either.