12 September 2007

Review - The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai is set in the 1980s during the beginning of the Nepalese revolution for independence from India. It's about a retired Indian judge who wishes he was English (along with the rest of his Anglophile, upperclass neighbors), his orphaned granddaughter, his cook, and his precious dog, Mutt, whom he prefers company to than any human. There's also the cook's son who has emigrated to the states and the granddaughter's math tutuor.

Really, the book is about cultural identity.

Desai moves between first and third world, between upper and lower class, between master and servant. She shows how the revolution destroyed lives, but also how the colonialism that preceded (and perhaps necessitated?) the revolution destroyed lives. You find yourself sympathetic to all sides but disdainful of all sides. They're all right, and they're all wrong, in the end. I think it's amazing how she was able to do that.

Her book is mostly third omniscient, which is not my favorite person. I prefer limited, and she does slide into it at times. It was a slow read for me. I thought I didn't care for the characters themselves, only the ideas, but then, one day, I cared for the characters. I don't know how it happened. The book is understated. Nothing maudlin here. People clinging to everyday lives, trying to make an everyday life, in the midst of war and poverty.

And relationships, the book is about relationships: relationships lost in the effort to make a better life. How is that life better when you've lost connection, she asks.

I love how she uses setting as an extended metaphor (you know how metaphors make me weak in the knees). There aren't any "likes" here. No similes. But in the midst of a fight, of pride and love, she describes the rooster and hen at the feet of the lovers/fighters.

Inheritance of Loss won the Man Booker Award last year (find the shortlist for this year's award here). I ended up loving the book, but it took more work than some (which, I suppose, is good for me).


Christianne said...

I appreciate this review. I've not read it, but I've gotten a good feel for the gist of it here without feeling like the experience of reading it would be stolen in advance by having read this review. Good job on that score!

I also let out a grunt of recognition when you said you started out not liking the characters but then realized one day that you did care about them after all. I've had that happen before -- not knowing how it happened, either.

I've had a hard time finding fiction I'm interested in reading these days . . . probably because there's so much choice out there that I never know if I can trust any of the promotional copy on the back of books anymore to help narrow my choice. This review helped narrow my choice to at least one book that would be worth picking up. I like working hard for a book every now and again.

Real Live Preacher said...

Would you mind defining Third omniscient and Third limited?

Mahesh said...

I am doing research on 'Postcolonial India' in Kiran Desai's novel. And in this regard i came across this article. I have read the novel 3 times (as a part of dissertation) but failed to understand as better as the article itself. I am really glad to have read it. I would request the writer to help me in my research and therefore if any relevant material found by him/her please mail it to - getfriendly2003@yahoo.com