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The Inheritance of Loss: A Novel by Kiran Desai
The Inheritance of Loss: A Novel

sreedhevi, November 15, 2009

I just finished this book, turned it right back and am starting again.

The themes dealt with are eternal and current at the same time. The aspiring nature of emigration, the unknown humiliation waiting overseas. And in the case of Jemubhai Popatlal, his undoing is his clinging on to a colonial life as an internal way of self-acceptance, even if it means staying away from everyone, becoming a tyrant to anyone too 'desi' for his liking. This may be in the 80s, but there are phantom Jemus living in India right now, after having returned from First World cultures.

Desai talks of young love, of holding on to forgotten lifestyles, of the divide between the haves and have nots, and of the unrevealed suffering of those who emigrate, who instead of obtaining the life of their dreams (or in this case, Biju's parent's dreams), become more desolate, more unwanted.

Which brings me to much of the criticism against the novel. Like with many Indian novels in English, it looks like any story told that may, even superficially, highlight anything resembling a negative experience, immediately gets trashed as being 'unfair' and 'inauthentic'. Well, not all Indian literature needs to be literary equivalents of Bollywood movies, with pink happy endings. Those are the salves for those in denial. Words of India booming is the desired buzzword, nobody wants to talk of the shadowy side of globalisation. This is precisely why Desai's picked this subject, and precisely why the book is being shouted down by Indian readers - who wants to see the uncomfortable truth staring at their faces? Isn't it easier to look at the shinier side?

It is a hard truth, the pain of dislocation. Not an optional lifestyle, but a gut-wrenching reality. Desai's subtext might well be - "lest we forget".
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