The Inheritance of Loss is Kiran Desai’s second novel (after Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard). The book was first published in 2006 and won the Man Booker Prize for that year as well as the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award in 2007.
The story is set in the mid-1980s in a Himalayan town in India by the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga and also New York. The story opens with a teenage Indian girl, an orphan called Sai, living with her Cambridge-educated Anglophile grandfather, a retired judge, in the town of Kalimpong, India, by the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga. Sai is romantically involved with her math tutor, Gyan, the descendant of a Nepali Gurkha mercenary, but he eventually recoils from her obvious privilege and falls in with a group of ethnic Gurkha/Gorkha insurgents. In a parallel narrative, we are shown the life of Biju, the son of Sai’s grandfather’s cook, who belongs to the illegal immigrants in New York and spends much of his time dodging the authorities, moving from one ill-paid job to another.
This is the first book of Kiran Desai I read, and definitely – I loved it. (Started reading Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard just after finishing this book). It’s a great story about loveless isolation, the concept of ‘dislocation’, told in a neutral narrative format which made me shiver. With brilliant writing style it is a commentary on class, on nationality, and on identity. Kiran Desai’s use of the ‘aware and active’ point of view has the naturalness of Tolstoy, Rushdie or even Garcia Marquez. Some might find the book bit disturbing, there is no happiness, no unconditional love, no resolution, no redemption for any of the characters (whoever told us that life is fair!).
Kiran Desai’s extraordinary new novel manages to explore…just about every contemporary international issue: globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality, fundamentalism and terrorist violence. Despite being set in the mid-1980’s, it seems the best kind of post-9/11 novel.
[New York Times]
From an interview at Jabberwock
She’s [Kiran Desai] pleasingly unselfconscious about the topic of immigrants, joking (again from the outside, as if she isn’t personally involved) about the various kinds there are: “those who throw up their hands at the difficulties – and, at the other end of the scale, those who are expert at playing the ethnic card, accentuating the character traits they are expected to have, and thereby making a success of their lives”. Like Biju’s worldly-wise friend Saeed Saeed, one of the many characters in Inheritance she would have liked to give a bigger stage to.
Kiran Desai The author reads from “The Inheritance of Loss.” (MP3 format.) From New York Times
NPR review by By Alan Cheuse