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The Inheritance of Loss

Kiran Desai

Average Review Rating Average Rating 7/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Penguin Books Ltd

Published : 2007

Copyright : Kiran Desai 2006

ISBN-10 : PB 0-14-102728-2
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-14-102728-9

Publisher's Write-Up

In the foothills of the Himalayas sits a once grand, now crumbling house - home to three people and a dog. There is the retired judge dreaming of colonial yesterdays; his orphaned granddaughter Sai who has fallen for her clever maths tutor; the cook, whose son Biju writes untruthful letters home from New York City; and Mutt, the judge's beloved dog. Around the house swirls mountain mist - but also the forces of revolution and change. For a new world is clashing with the old, and the future offers both hope and betrayal...

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Philip Spires (140908) Rating (7/10)

Review by Philip Spires
Rating 7/10
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai is a magnificent, impressive novel that ultimately is disappointing. As a process, the book is almost stunningly good. As a product, it falls short.

The book's language, scenarios and juxtapositions are funny, threatening, vivid and tender all at the same time. The comic element, always riven through with irony, is most often to the fore, as characters grapple with a world much bigger than themselves, a world that only ever seems to admit them partially, and rarely on their own terms. The one criticism I have of the style is Kiran Desai's propensity to offer up lists as comic devices, a technique that works a couple of times, but later has the reader scanning forward to the next substance.

An aged judge lives in the highlands of north India. As political and ethnic tensions stretch through the mountain air, he reconsiders his origins, his education, his career, his opportunities, both taken and missed. He has a granddaughter, orphaned in most unlikely circumstances, as her parents trained for a Russian space programme. But what circumstances that create orphans are ever likely? She is growing up, accompanied by most of what that entails.

The cook in the rickety mansion is the person that really runs the household, his rule-of-thumb methods predating the appliances he has to use and the services he has to provide. He manages, imaginatively. He has a son, Biju, who eventually forms the centrepiece of the book's complex, somewhat rambling story. Biju has emigrated to New York, where he has made it big, at least as far as the folks back home think. On site, he slaves away in the dungeon kitchens of fast food outlets, restaurants, both up and downmarket, and a few plain eateries. Kiran Desai provides the reader with a superb image of globalisation when she describes the customer-receiving areas of an upmarket restaurant flying an advertised, authentic French flag, while in the kitchen the flags are Indian, Honduran, anything but French. Now there is true authenticity for you, offered up in its manufactured, globalised form.

Biju, of course, dreams of home, but the comparatively large number of US dollars he earns - at least as far as the folks back home see it - barely covers essentials in someone else's reality.

The narrative of The Inheritance Of Loss flits between New York, northern India and elsewhere, and also between the here and now, yesteryear and the judge's childhood. And perhaps it flits too much, because the scenes are often cut short before the reader feels they have made a point.

And ultimately this reader found that the book lacked focus. While the process was enjoyable, the product was not worth the journey. The Inheritance Of Loss seemed to promise to take us somewhere in this globalised confusion of identity, motive, routine, unrealised dreams and intangible desires, but eventually it seemed to have nothing to add to a sense of "well that's how it is", which is precisely where we started. There was an opportunity for more, but it was ducked.

The book was thus a thoroughly enjoyable read that threatened to achieve greatness through statement, but unfortunately missed the mark, and by a long way.
Philip Spires (14th september 2008)

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