JanB, October 26, 2012 (view all comments by JanB)
I chose this book figuring it had to be good since it won the Man Booker prize and had reviews with glowing words of praise such as "extraordinary","sumptuously written", and "stunning". I was expecting a great read. Wow, what a let down. I could barely get through this book. I was alternately bored, confused, and disinterested, but kept plugging along hoping to finally understand why everyone loved it so much. I still don't know. I agree with one of the previous Powell's reviewers who wrote that "while the author was successful in pointing out the plight of native Indians at the hands of both Westerners and neighboring ethic groups, she fails miserably in making the reader care". I wholeheartedly agree. I didn't care at all what happened to any of the characters. There was no insight into why some of them behaved the way they did and their stories were just depressing. I've read plenty of books that are depressing that I would recommend. I was able to relate to the characters, felt empathy for them, and wanted to spend time with them along their journey. There was also growth, insights, and maybe enlightenment along the way. If there wasn't a happy ending at least there was some time of resolution by the end of the book. This book had none of that. I practically ran to the used bookstore to sell it as soon as I was finished, and I'm a person who keeps most of the books I read. I had no desire for this one to sit among the others in my bookcase.
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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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lmoore07, July 6, 2007 (view all comments by lmoore07)
Desai does a beautiful job of weaving stories of India, the immigrant's experience, a troubling legacy of colonialism and the challenges of assimilation. She shows the presence of a third world within the first world (U.S.), while exploring the subtleties of status, class and nationality. Not only a touching story, but also a timely and critical inquiry into our increasingly interconnected world.
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lilymama, April 20, 2007 (view all comments by lilymama)
Unfortunately, I read this book just after finishing "Nectar in a Sieve" by Kamala Markandaya. Perhaps without the inevitable comparison, I wouldn't have been quite as disappointed... While "Inheritance" is successful in pointing out the plight of native Indians at the hands of both Westerners and neighboring ethnic groups, Ms. Desai fails miserably in making the reader CARE. I was unable to feel affection or sympathy for the characters of this book - and, in some cases, actually felt that some of their hardships were earned! NOT a heart-warming or inspirational read in my eyes.
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thummarukudy, April 14, 2007 (view all comments by thummarukudy)
So when I picked up The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai, Booker prize winner for this year, I was still chasing the same dream. I knew she had even more famous lineage and literary contacts than Arundhathi Roy, but I wanted to check out the book anyway.
Well, it turned out that this book is very bad too, both in story and style. However, there is no trick either. Bad story is told in the very old style of narration, though occasionally going back through flashbacks in the mind of the cook and the judge.
The story is set in the foothills of Himalaya around the time of the Gurkha agitation. The main characters are the judge Jumunbhai Patel (a former Indian Civil Service officer), his granddaughter Sai, his cook, the son of the cook (who is an illegal immigrant in the US). Into the rather empty and meaningless existence of the Judge’s family comes Gyan, the science tutor for Sai. Then there are some peripheral charetecters who live both in the hills and in the US. The story is not developed in any direction, neither the full story of the judge (why did he leave the civil service), nor that of the Gurkha agitation (where it came from and where it ended) is taken to its logical conclusion. The romance between Sai and Gyan is cut off abrubptly for the most unlikeliest of the reasons. In the end, only closure in the book is that of the cook as his son returns to him in the very last scene of the book.
On second thoughts I shouldn’t have read the book, not at least when Siddharth was away and Babu was down with chicken pox. The atmosphere a home was already gloomy and the book did not help. Page after page, the book produced volumes of negativity. Everything and everybody in the book was a failure and a disaster. Not that they were failing in real life. Jumunbhai Patel, born into a poor family, survived on 10 pounds a month in the UK and passed Indian Civil Service successfully. A most laudable achievement by any standard. However Kiran manages to pour ice water (shall I say liquid nitrogen) over it and demeans the achievement by first saying he was not in the first list, then saying he was in the extended list meant only for Indians and finally making him the last in the list.
Every other character, their love, their desires are all painted black, blacker and blackest. Bijus struggle for survival is portrayed as meaningless existence. The wonderful affection which brings him back to India to see his father as the hills of Siliguri are burning due to Gurkha agitation is painted black with luggage delays and mean behaviour of Air France staff. In the end he is not even given decent clothes to go home to.
The fate of Indians is painted in blackest possible terms everywhere. In Nigeria, In Tanzania, in South Africa and so on. In the end the author falls to the same mindset which she is trying to expose, one of inferiority and helplessness. Now I must make a confession here. This is a period novel, of a time around 1986. I first came out of India in 1995 and the fate and repute of Indians have changed dramatically since. People no longer want Indians out, they want Indians in. Germany wants them, UK wants them, Finland wants them and so on. Not only that, others are now coming to India too. But I escaped the blackest of the periods I think.
The only positive character in the whole book is Saeed Saeed, the guy from Zanzibar (and not Tanzania). He manages to outwit the fathers of pretty and not so pretty girls in Zanzibar, he outsmarts the immigration officer with forged passports, he go around with all sort of women white, black, good and ugly, he move from job to job with ease. I must thank the author for not letting him die of aids in the end. White amount of black ink she had, that would have been an easy stroke.
Anyway, as I finished the book, I felt depressed. I felt like a person who have been peeling black onions, with other peel coming off as black, hoping finally some bright stuff will emerge. Well in this particular case nothing emerged. Only black, black and then emptiness. And probably it is this blackness which gave her the award. How black could one go
I don’t have a word of good thing yet to say about Inheritance of Loss. I have inherited a small loss, GBP 12.95. I am now looking for a victim to pass on this inheritance.
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The Inheritance of Loss: A Novel
Used Trade Paper
0 stars -
Grove Press -
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"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.)
by New York Times,
"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."
by Chicago Tribune,
"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."
by Los Angeles Times,
"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."
by New Yorker,
"Briskly paced and sumptuously written, the novel ponders questions of nationhood, modernity, and class, in ways both moving and revelatory."
by Christian Science Monitor,
"[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."
by The Boston Globe,
"If book reviews just cut to the chase, this one would simply read: This is a terrific novel! Read it!"
by San Francisco Chronicle,
"The story ricochets between the two worlds, held together by Desai's sharp eyes and even sharper tongue."
by Entertainment Weekly,
"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."
by Seattle Times,
"Shimmering with honesty and humanity....This novel is finely accomplished."
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.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.