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The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

The Inheritance of Loss (original 2005; edition 2006)

by Kiran Desai

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5,146156867 (3.42)1 / 440
Title:The Inheritance of Loss
Authors:Kiran Desai
Info:Grove/Atlantic (2006), Mass Market Paperback, 357 pages
Collections:Your library, To read

Work details

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2005)

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Great book. Nothing like it I have ever read ( )
  rajveerspace | Mar 25, 2014 |
Between 1986 and 1988, the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland and Kamtapur based on ethnic lines grew strong. Riots between the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and the West Bengal government reached a stand-off after a forty-day strike. The town was virtually under siege, and the state government called in the Indian army to maintain law and order. This led to the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, a body that was given semi-autonomous powers to govern the Darjeeling district, except the area under the Siliguri subdivision. Since 2007, the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state has been revived by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and its supporters in the Darjeeling hills. The Kamtapur People's Party and its supporters' movement for a separate Kamtapur state covering North Bengal have gained momentum. (from Wikipedia)

[The Inheritance of Loss] by Kiran Desai
Kalimpong an Indian Hill station and it's surrounds form the backdrop to Desia's 2006 Man Booker prize winning novel, with the riots in the 1980's resulting from agitation by the Gorkha National Liberation Front forming a centre piece for the story. It's strength lies in its portrayal of life in a post colonial India town, which is home to a number of nationalities and conscious of its history as a crossroads for Tibetan refugees and Chinese incursions. It's weakness lies in a sort of cut and paste structure that does not serve well its central story line which does not come across as strongly as it might have done.

The inheritance of loss is a loss of identity and the themes running through this novel are of individuals struggling to come to terms with displacement of one sort or another. A retired Indian judge who has never recovered from his education in England and the resulting alienation he feels when returning to India is set against the story of his cook's son who is desperately trying to make his way as an illegal immigrant in the United States of America. The colourful elderly residents around Kalimpong; Noni and Lola, Uncle Potty and father Booty are foreigners in a country they have made their home and there is a sense of them clinging onto a life that threatens to be swept away by the Nationalists movement. These people are out of place and out of time, but their situation is in some respects similar to the younger generation; Sai the judges granddaughter and her boyfriend Gyan who being Nepalese is caught up in a struggle that he barely understands and of course Biju the cook's son trying to figure out just what he is doing in the USA.

Desai places the reader convincingly in the crumbling houses and crumbling lives of the community in Kalimpong. The hill station with it's beautiful flora and breath taking views of the Himalayas is contrasted with downtown scruffiness and abject poverty on its outskirts. Her characters are well drawn, but she laughs at them perhaps a little too cruelly at times, these are people that deserve our sympathy a little more than Desai allows us to have for them. I get the feeling she is looking down on her characters rather than looking through them and her superior attitude grates on me a little. Desai is not above having a swipe at other authors writing about India; V S Naipaul for instance and those English writers whose impressions "did not correspond with the truth."

Taking everything into consideration I think Desai's novel is a success, because of her characterisation and her insight into her themes of alienation in a post colonial world. She writes well enough sprinkling her text with Indian and Anglo-Indian expressions that lend it all some authenticity. However I am not entirely convinced with the novel's structure, the continual breaking up of the text into short sections within a chapter makes that cut and paste feeling all too apparent, there are bits pasted in that might have been better to leave out. In my opinion the novel lacks a heart and so I would rate it at 3.5 stars. ( )
3 vote baswood | Jan 9, 2014 |
The book takes place in post-Independence India, with occasional flashbacks to the colonial rule under the British. And while India gained independence, it still struggled with the many diverse cultures within its borders. Desai brings a story in the Kalimpong area at the base of the Himalayas. It is less a story with a plot than a study of the characters, a retired judge, his orphaned granddaughter, the family cook, the cook’s son an undocumented worker in the US and assorted neighbors. And it is a study of loss as a character in many forms, loss of parents, loss of a known way of life with its hierarchy of place in society, loss of a first love, and loss of opportunities. The language was rich, bringing forth the colors, scents, feel of this corner of India.

While I enjoyed reading the book, it left a feeling of sadness due all the loss. For my reading experience I would have preferred a little more of a plot and things tied up a bit more neatly. But I’m glad I finally took the time to read this from my TBR. ( )
  punxsygal | Jan 1, 2014 |
I'd been meaning to read this one forever, so I finally got it out of the library and listened to it. It was good, but nothing fantastic. ( )
  erelsi183 | Nov 18, 2013 |
'Gorkhaland‘ refers to a proposed independent state comprising of a part of West Bengal in North-eastern India – landlocked between Nepal to its west, Bhutan to its east and the Himalayan mountain ranges to its north.

Since colonial times, this area has consisted of ethno-linguistic peoples from all three of these present-day countries. When India gained her Independence from the British in 1947, a formalized demand was put forward to create ‘Gorkhasthan’, comprising of Darjeeling District (in West Bengal), Sikkim (another Indian state) and Nepal. This demand was unmet but the movement continued to grow. Between 1986 and 1988, India saw one of its largest mass political movements for ‘Gorkhaland’ – a violent uprising driven primarily by the ‘Gorkha National Liberation Front’ (GNLF) party. Despite eventually gaining a certain level of success in terms of governance rights across certain areas of the disputed region, the demand for independent statehood continues to the present-day, with political marches, agitations and strikes by the various pro-Gorkhaland parties, finally united as the ‘Gorkhaland Joint Action Committee’ in 2013.

The main action of Kiran Desai’s 2006 Booker-winning novel is set during that 1986-1988 Gorkhaland movement in Kalimpong, part of the Darjeeling District, on the banks of the Teesta River. However, the narrative reaches back into colonial times, extends to present-day New York and jumps and cuts back and forth both time and geographical boundaries.

The primary characters are an irascible, old, retired Judge (Jemubhai Patel), his teenage, orphaned grand-daughter (Sai), his long-time Cook, the Cook’s son (Biju) and a Nepali student-teacher (Gyan). There is also an assortment of quaint neighbors and friends – spinsterly Anglophile sisters (Lola and Noni), another Anglicized Indian gentleman (Uncle Potty), a Swiss priest (Father Booty), and so on. And, while the narrative shifts mainly between two points of view – Sai’s in Kalimpong and Biju’s in New York – we get to spend some time with almost all of these people to see their points of view also. Desai handles these shifts in narrative very skillfully by ensuring sufficient gaps and transitions. This cannot have been easy, given the sheer amount of editing she had to do (according to an interview in The Hindu, Chennai, India, October 12, 2006, the original manuscript was more than 1,500 pages and had to be pared down)..........

Read the rest of the review here. ( )
  jennybhatt | Oct 1, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kiran Desaiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Drews, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary 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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802142818, Paperback)

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 judge’s 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:28 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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 judgeʾs 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 Desaiʾs 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. Winner of 2006 Man Booker Prize.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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Average: (3.42)
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Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141027282, 0141399368

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