Review

The Inheritance of Loss

by Kiran Desai



In a house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga, which shows little
sign of its former glory, lives a judge, his granddaughter and
their cook. The judge has retreated to this house, Cho Oyu, to
spend the rest of his days alone (with his beloved dog, Mutt)
trying to forget about his disappointing past. His granddaughter
Sai was brought to her grandfather after the parents she barely
knew died in Russia, and now she has fallen in love with her
science tutor, Gyan. The cook, Nandu, has pinned all his hopes on
the son, Biju, whom he sent to America. Kiran Desai's newest novel,
THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS, follows these characters at a moment when
identity, nationality and loyalty are all called into question as
an Indian-Nepali insurgency erupts in their mountain town.

For the judge, all opportunity has passed him by. The hopes of his
family rested on him, and he succeeded in leaving India for a
difficult education in England. His color, his religion, his
language all made him the embodiment of "other" in England, and he
began to question his identity and his connection to India while
there. On returning home he vented his anger and frustration on his
innocent young wife and never knew the daughter she bore him. When
Sai arrives at Cho Oyu he begins to confront his own sufferings as
a victim of racism and colonialism as well as the violence he
perpetrated against his wife.

Sai does not dwell in the past and is glad to be out of the convent
where she lived while her parents were abroad. She is young enough
to live in the moment, which helps her overlook some of the issues
with her boyfriend Gyan --- issues that lurk just under the surface
of their affair. As an Indian of a formerly powerful, educated and
Western-thinking family, Sai's identity and her relationship to
India is very different from Gyan's. Gyan's Nepalese family lives
in poverty, struggling to make ends meet while providing him with a
good education. When his friends start to explore, first peacefully
and then with violence, the inequalities and zenophobia present in
India itself, he is caught up in the furor and clashes with
Sai.

Meanwhile, on opposite sides of the globe, Biju and his father lose
themselves in the fantasy that is America: the cook hoping for
better things for his son while the son, living the grueling
reality of life as a poor and illegal resident, is condemned to
menial labor and abject living conditions. Biju longs for
home.

With these very real and compelling main characters and a few
wonderful minor ones as well, Desai explores such complicated
issues as colonialism, racism, immigration, young love, regret,
hope, the role of family, and the myths of both India and
America.

Desai is a confident and talented writer. Her novel is full of
wisdom and subtle parallels; it is both funny and bitterly sad, but
generally optimistic. Desai's scope is broad, looking at the
consequences of large cultural and political forces for both a
people and individuals. However, she is never preachy (even when
extolling the virtues and vices of "civilization") or even
predictable.

With this, her second novel, Desai has secured her place with the
list of great contemporary Indian authors exploring life and
society in India and elsewhere: think Salman Rushdie and Rohinton
Mistry. THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS is lovely and highly recommended.
It is smart, witty and honest --- a powerfully engrossing
novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

The Inheritance of Loss
by Kiran Desai

  • Publication Date: November 28, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • ISBN-10: 0871139294
  • ISBN-13: 9780871139290