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The Inheritance of Loss (2005)

by Kiran Desai

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,2321721,139 (3.41)1 / 534
An embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace lives in a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge's cook watches over Sai distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another.… (more)
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English (164)  Finnish (1)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (171)
Showing 1-5 of 164 (next | show all)
A remarkable book. A bitter old judge, his granddaughter, her tutor, the judge's cook, and his cook's son all feature here. The judge lives in the Himalayas in a house that is declining. Once rich, he is now struggling to keep the house, against forces that are looking for change, especially change that does not bode well for the old guard.

Through intertwining stories, we follow the judge's life story, his granddaughter Sai's flight and her response to her tutor, the cook's troubles, and the cook's son Biju. Biju struggles in the United States, trying to make it against difficult odds.

And through it all a kind of love story.

Complex lives, affected by the political changes arising from colonialism. Absorbing. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
Excellent writing throughout, and a great assessment of cultural movement from one territory to another as a traveller and an immigrant. Some slower sections, but the content is worth it and the conclusion is darkly excellent. ( )
  ephemeral_future | Aug 20, 2020 |
This book was a little more stream-of-conscious-y and postmodern-y than I usually expect from a Booker winner, but not extremely so---it isn't tough to read at all (I'm looking at you, Finnegans Wake). The plot interweaves the stories of the Judge (a bitter and hateful old man, crushed by long years of what I think is an acute anxiety disorder); his orphaned granddaughter, Sai; his nameless cook; and the cook's son, Biju. The plot is set against the backdrop of Nepalese insurgency in Kalimpong, India.

A beautiful exploration of what it means to be foreign both in one's own homeland and abroad; what it means to be wealthy versus destitute; what it is to be capable of love, or not. Desai's use of place as a metaphor is precise and inspiring, particularly in the description of Cho Oyu (the manor house), a symbol of privelge that is literally crumbling around its inhabitants.
( )
  CatherineMachineGun | Jul 31, 2020 |
"The present changes the past. looking back you do not find what you left behind."

Written in 2006 this book centres on two main characters, one an orphan living in the mountains of India one illegally in the US and looks at the conflict between the traditional Indian way of life and the apparent opulence of the West, in particular Britain and the US.

The story opens with Sai, a well-educated Indian girl living with her grandfather in the mountains of India bordering Nepal and Bhutan being beset by a group of intruders. Her grandfather is a retired judge, trying to live out his life in virtual isolation and decaying grandeur but one night they are robbed of food, guns and liquor by Nepalese separatists and this isolation is threatened. It is a turbulent time for them and the region.

Sai’s grandfather left and eventually killed his wife so when Sai is orphaned he takes on the responsibility of her upbringing and education, hiring a tutor, Gyan, to teach her mathematics and science when Sai's original tutor reaches the end of her own knowledge. The grandfather wants to leave behind the traditions of India, but feels guilty about his treatment of his wife whilst Sai falls in love with her tutor despite the difference in their social classes.

Meanwhile, the only servant in the house, the cook, worries about his son, Biju. Encouraged to do so by his father, Biju overstayed his tourist visa and lives illegally in the US working in kitchens for slave wages and generally being taken advantage of, often by immigrants to the country like himself.

As the political situation deteriorates and the separatists become ever more brazen each character must confront how they have lived their lives thus far.

Much of the novel deals with the effects of colonialism in the wake of Britain's withdrawal from the sub-continent when many Indians were fascinated by the English way of life, which seemed to offer more opportunities to escape from the squalor in their own country. However, Britain's withdrawal has also caused problems. When Western powers decided where the borders should be many ethnic minorities found themselves outsiders in their own country. India’s own class system is in itself also a stumbling block to progress.

The grandfather and granddaughter are upper class Indians. They are educated and in the case of the former judge spent time living in the West. This experience causes the grandfather to resent his Indian background, going as far as wearing white powder to try to hide his Indian colour. He returns home to his wife, but she reminds him of what he left behind in Britain, and spends the rest of her life in contempt of her.

Despite stories of riches, in America Biju lives in the same squalor that he hoped to leave behind him back in India, finding it a struggle find both food and shelter. He feels that his hopes have been betrayed and finally decides to give up his dream to return home to his father.

This then leads on to another major theme, isolation. Despite working for him for many years the judge treats the cook much the same as Biju is treated by his employers in America. The judge despises his Indian traditions and is more Western than Indian but despite never being accepted into English society, his neighbours treat him as a part of this Western culture, further isolating him as he fits into neither. Biju, in contrast hoped to escape class stigma by going to America but discovers the same prejudices. Sai and Gyan love one another, and try to bridge the gap but find themselves separated by insurmountable differences in social status.

The book then looks at post-colonial expectations of differing generations and classes as they search for identity after independence. It is by no means all gloom and doom. There are a number of set piece comic episodes involving minor characters. So why didn't I enjoy it more? I'm not really sure. I usually enjoy post-colonial novels. I think that it may have something to do with the sheer scope of this novel. I found that I couldn't really connect with any of the characters and for that reason somehow it just didn't gel with me. An OK but not a great read.

" The journey once begun, has no end." ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jul 28, 2019 |
For an award winning book, I was quite disappointed. I read 6/32 (56 pages) chapters and just couldn't finish reading it when I had 11 hours and/or 330 pages to cover. I found the book plotless. There were various narrators and I wasn't sure who was telling the story at any given moment. I thought maybe it was because I was listening to the audio, but then I got the book from the library, and still could not follow along. The characters were flat and I couldn't care about any of them. In two words: mundane and boring! ( )
  Tess_W | Jun 5, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 164 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kiran Desaiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Drews, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lai, Chin-YeeCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Boast of Quietness

Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigious than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and my death, I observe the ambitious and would like to understand them.
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of the same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rhythm of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword, the willow grove's visible prayer as evening falls.
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensable, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn't expect to arrive.

-Jorge Luis Borges
To my mother with so much love
First words
All day, the colours had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths.
An accident, they said, and there was nobody to blame - it was just fate in the way fate has of providing the destitute with a greater quota of accidents for which nobody can be blamed.
Just ordinary humans in ordinary opaque boiled-egg light, without grace, without revelation, composite of contradictions, easy principles, arguing about what they half believed in or even what they didn't believe in at all, desiring comfort as much as raw austerity, authenticity as much as playacting, desiring coziness of family as much as to abandon it forever.
...and he felt a flash of jealousy as do friends when they lose another to love, especially those who have understood that friendship is enough, steadier, healthier, easier on the heart. Something that always added and never took away. (Ch 39)
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Wikipedia in English (4)

An embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace lives in a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge's cook watches over Sai distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another.

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Average: (3.41)
0.5 6
1 44
1.5 11
2 150
2.5 50
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4.5 51
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141027282, 0141399368

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