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?