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The Inheritance of Loss: A Novelby Kiran Desai
Synopses & Reviews
From the author of Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard comes a masterpiece set in a corner of the Himalayas where a rising insurgency challenges the old way of life — Kiran Desai's new novel about belonging and estrangement, exile and homecoming, is rich and infinitely wise.
Published to unanimous acclaim in over twenty-two countries, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard announced the arrival of a stunning new voice and was, according to Salman Rushdie, "welcome proof that India's encounter with the English language continues to give birth to new children, endowed with lavish gifts."
Now Kiran Desai takes us to the northeastern Himalayas where in a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga lives an embittered old judge who wants to retire in peace when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge's chatty cook watches over her, but his thoughts are mostly with his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one miserable New York restaurant to another, trying to stay a step ahead of the INS and forced to consider his country's relationship with the wider world.
When a Nepalese insurgency in the mountains threatens Sai's new-sprung romance with her handsome Nepali tutor and causes their lives to descend into chaos, they, too, are forced to confront their colliding interests. The nation fights itself. The cook witnesses the hierarchy being overturned and discarded. The judge must revisit his past, his own journey and role in this grasping world of conflicting desires — every moment holding out the possibility for hope or betrayal.
A story of such depth and emotion, hilarity and imagination, Desai's second, long-awaited novel fulfills the grand promise established by her first.
"This stunning second novel from Desai (Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard) is set in mid-1980s India, on the cusp of the Nepalese movement for an independent state. Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired Cambridge-educated judge, lives in Kalimpong, at the foot of the Himalayas, with his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, and his cook. The makeshift family's neighbors include a coterie of Anglophiles who might be savvy readers of V.S. Naipaul but who are, perhaps, less aware of how fragile their own social standing is — at least until a surge of unrest disturbs the region. Jemubhai, with his hunting rifles and English biscuits, becomes an obvious target. Besides threatening their very lives, the revolution also stymies the fledgling romance between 16-year-old Sai and her Nepalese tutor, Gyan. The cook's son, Biju, meanwhile, lives miserably as an illegal alien in New York. All of these characters struggle with their cultural identity and the forces of modernization while trying to maintain their emotional connection to one another. In this alternately comical and contemplative novel, Desai deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating the pain of exile, the ambiguities of post-colonialism and the blinding desire for a 'better life,' when one person's wealth means another's poverty. Agent, Michael Carlisle. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Kiran Desai's second novel tackles the lingering effects of colonialism on two kinds of South Asian people: those who attempt to leave India and those who remain. Set in 1986 in Kalimpong — a Himalayan town in India's northeastern corner — as well as in New York, the book details the beginning stages of a love affair. Here and there it unleashes some moments of bleak comedy, but the sweet-natured... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) playfulness that cartwheeled through Desai's first novel, 'Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard' (1998), is conspicuously absent. Instead, the prevailing mood is implacable bitterness and despair. Among those who find themselves immobilized in an ever-expanding web of debilitating Western influences are Jemubhai Patel, a Cambridge-educated retired judge whose unrequited Anglophilia has condemned him to a lifetime of loneliness and self-hatred; his convent-educated 17-year-old granddaughter, Sai, whose parents were killed in the Soviet Union, where her father was training to be an astronaut, and who now lives with the judge in his grand, crumbling mountain home; Gyan, a young accountant who abandons his budding romance with Sai when he joins a group of insurgents agitating for an independent Nepali state; and Biju, the only son of the judge's ill-treated cook, who roams silently through a series of menial New York restaurant jobs. 'Perfectly first-world on top, perfectly third-world twenty-two steps below': This is Desai's succinct description of Biju's working environment, where his position in Manhattan's rat-infested basement kitchens is firmly fixed. It's a position in which the rest of her characters are metaphorically pinned as well. All of them are exiles whether at home or abroad, and all of them struggle — and fail — to maintain a foothold and a shred of dignity in the encroaching morass of Westernization. What unfolds in the novel is not so much a plot as a sequence of illustrations of Desai's worldview. There are shifts backward in time to the judge's Cambridge days, when 'he worked at being English with the passion of hatred.' There are descriptions of the slowly mounting insurgency in Kalimpong, where angry young men demanding a homeland shout and march 'as if they were being featured in a documentary of war ... these unleashed Bruce Lee fans in their American T-shirts made-in-China-coming-in-via-Kathmandu.' The narrative swerves restlessly, as if the book itself were motoring up Kalimpong's dizzying mountain roads. It veers from Sai's fledgling romance with Gyan during the monsoon season to the judge's long-ago failed marriage, from the tragicomic anxiety of the judge's elderly neighbors during the insurgency to Biju's humiliations as a bewildered illegal alien, forever at the mercy of soulless embassy bureaucrats and heartless restaurant bosses. Desai's grim imaginings are plainly designed to disturb and challenge complacent readers and to instill a sense of dislocation similar to that of her protagonists. But the force of her enterprise is diluted when her restlessness as a storyteller spills into impatience. Just as the reader begins to engage with a character, the narrative jumps to another time and place, another set of dire circumstances, making it difficult to develop any sort of uninterrupted sympathy. The author's impatience reveals itself also through the constant introduction of minor characters, most of whom appear all too briefly, like Biju's friend Saeed Saeed, a Zanzibar native whose unflagging determination to succeed in America is one of the book's only flashes of optimism. Interspersed throughout the book, these smaller portraits are illuminating, but too distractingly sketchy to offer the reader an emotional connection. With 'The Inheritance of Loss,' Desai makes clear her intention to expand her reach from the narrow boundaries of her first novel to the global arena where big-name novelists like Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith already confidently perform. In many ways, she has succeeded. The writing has a melancholy beauty here, especially in its sensuous evocations of the natural world: 'white azaleas in flower, virginal yet provocative like a good underwear trick'; 'mountains where monasteries limpet to the sides of rock.' Her keen appreciation of contradiction enriches the book, and, if the integrity of her narrative is less than perfect, the integrity of her ideological convictions is absolute. Yet what's most surprising about Desai's career thus far is that her first book was, in one important way, a more sophisticated effort than its successor. A small, brilliant fable, 'Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard' showed off its young author's profound comprehension that every novel, large or small, is at its heart an intimate thing. Its success depends on its author's unwavering attention to a group of characters who are the reader's emotional conduit to the book's wider drama. Some of that comprehension seems to have been left behind in Desai's leap to her second, more ambitious production. Donna Rifkind is a regular contributor to The Washington Post Book World." Reviewed by Donna Rifkind, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"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
"This story of exiles at home and abroad...is one of the most impressive novels in English of the past year, and I predict you'll read it almost as Sai read her Bronte, with your heart in your chest, inside the narrative, and the narrative inside you." Chicago Tribune
"Wise, insightful and full of wonderfully compelling and conflicted characters....With its razor insights and emotional scope, The Inheritance of Loss amplifies a developing and formidable voice." Los Angeles Times
"Briskly paced and sumptuously written, the novel ponders questions of nationhood, modernity, and class, in ways both moving and revelatory." New Yorker
"[T]he final scene treats the heart to one last moment of wild, comic joy — even as it satisfies the head by refusing to relinquish the dark reality that is the life of its characters." Christian Science Monitor
"If book reviews just cut to the chase, this one would simply read: This is a terrific novel! Read it!" The Boston Globe
"The story ricochets between the two worlds, held together by Desai's sharp eyes and even sharper tongue." San Francisco Chronicle
"Ambitious....The book's magic lies in such rich images as an Indian judge wearing a 'silly white wig atop a dark face in the burning heat of summer." Entertainment Weekly
"Shimmering with honesty and humanity....This novel is finely accomplished." Seattle Times
In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judges cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another. Kiran Desai's brilliant novel, published to huge acclaim, is a story of joy and despair. Her characters face numerous choices that majestically illuminate the consequences of colonialism as it collides with the modern world.
The author of the acclaimed Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard takes readers to the northeastern Himalayas where a rising insurgency in Nepal challenges the old way of life — and opens up a grasping world of conflicting desires.
About the Author
Kiran Desai was born in India in 1971. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard. Educated in India, England, and the United States, she received her MFA from Columbia.
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