May 2011
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Book Review: The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

“The Inheritance of Loss”

By Kiran Desai

Penguin Books 

‘The Inheritance of Loss’ is Kiran Desai’s second novel, which had won her ‘Man Booker Prize, 2006’.  

The story is set in a small North East Indian town at the border of Nepal. The characters are a retired judge Jemubhai Patel, his dog Mutt, his cook (and the cook’s son Biju) his orphaned granddaughter, Sai and her maths tutor Gyan. The story flips through the present and then goes back in time when Jemubhai recollects memories from his days spend in England as a young Gujarati man out of a small town. The storyline in the present touches Sai’s love/crush with Gyan. Later on Gyan gets lost in a political movement to get separate country called Gorkhaland for people from Nepali origins. (the novel presents an interesting and learned background to the separatist Gorkhaland movement; also on how the movement had digressed into lootings and robbery). A parallel storyline runs through Baiju’s life (the cook’s son) who had gone to the US to earn some money, but when he returns, he is looted in a tragic manner and left with nothing but in a woman’s attire.  

I think the judge’s character has been developed most. To me he had grown into a loathsome individual, harassing his wife when young, and then exploiting his cook, but at the same time he would do anything in love for his dog Mutt. Biju’s character, though not developed much, shows a stark reality of pitiful trap of poverty. This “political sense” in my opinion/insight is a unique and amazing side of this book and the author.  

Many of the characters in the book appear “helpless” and “weak”, but when we think about the circumstances and political and social environment, the context is saddening. The story is also a pointer of how poverty, extremist movements, political apathy, all these miseries trap our world.  

The literary style of Kiran Desai is unique. Especially in the beginning I was amazed at the minuteness of details that she commented on. Even a body movement was captured in her humorous style. But at times the minute level descriptions became too much for me. What I really loved was the political sense. The story line traversed touching shades of migration, multi-culturist society, separatist movements and terrorism, class differences, poverty, human sensibilities and what not.. Overall, it was an enlightening read and I recommend it to all.  

Some random excerpts from the novel, said by different characters in different situations, type written by me: 

Mrs. Sen, “More Muslims in India than in Pakistan. They prefer to multiply here. You know, that Jinnah, he ate bacon and eggs for breakfast every morning and drank whiskey every evening. What sort of Muslim nation they have? And five times a day bums up to God. Mind you, with that Koran, who can be surprised? They have no option but to be two-faced. The reasoning formed a central pillar of Hindu belief and it went like this: so strict was the Koran that its teachings were beyond human capacity. Therefore, Muslims were forced to pretend one thing, do another; they drank, smoked, ate pork, visited prostitutes, and then denied it. Unlike Hindus, who needn’t deny…. Muslims also came from somewhere else, Babar and all… And stayed here to breed. Not that it is the fault of the women – poor things – it is the men – marrying three, four wives – no shame. They have nothing better to do, you know. Without TV and electricity, there will always be this problem-”. (P130) 

“Rule of nature: Imagine if we were sitting around saying, “So-and-so-score years ago, Neanderthals came out of the woods, attacked my family with a big dinosaur bone, and now you give back.” (P134) 

“Half awed I was by the writing, but half I was bewildered by these Christian ideas of confession and forgiveness – they place the burden of the crime on the victim! If nothing can undo the misdeed, then why should sin be undone? The whole system seemed to favor, in fact, the criminal over the righteous. You could behave badly, say you were sorry, you would get extra fun and be reinstated in the same position as the one who had done nothing, who now had both to suffer the crime and the difficulty of forgiving, with no goodies in addition at all. And of course you would feel freer than ever to sin if you were aware of such a safety net; sorry, sorry, of so so sorry.” (P200) 

“Immigration, so often presented as a heroic act, could just as easily be the opposite; that it was cowardice that led many to America; fear marked the journey, not bravery; a cockroachy desire to scuttle to where you never saw poverty, not really, never had to suffer a tug to your conscience; where you never heard the demands of servants, beggars, bankrupt relatives, and where your generosity would never be openly claimed; where by merely looking after your own wife-child-dog-yard you could feel virtuous. Experience the relief of being an unknown transplant to the locals and hide the perspective granted by journey.” (P299) 

- Rahul

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