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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Universal themes made personal
I have to disagree with many reviews of this book: I found it compelling, entertaining, beautifully written and thought-provoking. Anyone who has spent any period of their life living away from home for whatever reason will identify with the distracted difficulty of living "in a single existence at one time" that this book evokes.

I concede that it is a little...
Published on 20 Jan 2008 by Juliet Platt

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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sensuous writing, loose construction
From the first page the reader is struck by the extraordinary richness and brilliance of the author's imagery (though this is less consistent as the novel proceeds), and soon afterwards by the delineation the characters who are living in or near Kalimpong, under Kanchenjunga, the Himalayan peak on the border between India and Nepal. Living in an isolated house outside...
Published on 20 Jun 2007 by Ralph Blumenau


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Universal themes made personal, 20 Jan 2008
By 
Juliet Platt (Wiltshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Inheritance of Loss (Paperback)
I have to disagree with many reviews of this book: I found it compelling, entertaining, beautifully written and thought-provoking. Anyone who has spent any period of their life living away from home for whatever reason will identify with the distracted difficulty of living "in a single existence at one time" that this book evokes.

I concede that it is a little flawed in structure and style, however I found the writing to be astonishingly lucid, humorous and insightful. The novel is built from a series of vignettes, some of which read almost as discrete short stories, some of which are as short as a couple of sentences. This approach is effective in portraying impactful images of setting and experience, and in supporting the theme of historical incoherence, where events develop almost of their own accord, nudged along by the naive and ignorant actions of people.

Elsewhere the themes of displacement, the complexity of distance, nostalgia, alienation from self and others, inauthenticity, foreign-ness, self-consciousness and human weakness across the generations are all played out under the shadow of Kanchenjunga mountain, the ultimate representation of truth and authenticity.

Desai throws us into the alienation experience of her characters by peppering her prose with unfamiliar Indian words. With the exception of Sai, Gyan and Biju, she identifies key characters either by their occupation or their nickname, in order to emphasise the mask of persona and lack of authentic will in each. Much more is made of the judge's affection for his pet dog Mutt than of the story of young love between Sai and Gyan, though in the end, youthful truth, love, wisdom and honesty provide precarious glimmers of hope and redemption.

The political buzzwords that appear on the dust jacket of this book don't really do it justice at all. This is a powerful and lyrically presented account of the ordinary and the extraordinary, the personal and the universal, and how one is so frequently and tragically ignorant of the other.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sensuous writing, loose construction, 20 Jun 2007
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Inheritance of Loss (Paperback)
From the first page the reader is struck by the extraordinary richness and brilliance of the author's imagery (though this is less consistent as the novel proceeds), and soon afterwards by the delineation the characters who are living in or near Kalimpong, under Kanchenjunga, the Himalayan peak on the border between India and Nepal. Living in an isolated house outside Kalimpong are Jemubhai Patel, a crusty, embittered and rage-filled retired judge who had withdrawn into this remote corner of India; his orphaned granddaughter Sai, for whom he needs has to provide a home and a tutor to teach her; and the judge's long-serving cook, who basks in the reflected glory of what the judge once was, and, above all, in the pride that he has a son, Biju, `working for the Americans', unaware of the menial jobs he is doing in New York as an illegal immigrant, along with the flotsam of other illegals from all over the Third World. With the exception of the cook, none of the book's main characters, especially the western-educated ones, really know where they belong when the clash of cultures becomes an issue.

For in that particular corner of India the Nepalese are the majority population, and the area is plagued by the rise and increasing activity of the Gorkha National Liberation Front with its demands for an independent Gorkhaland. Class is also an issue here. In the second half of the book, the activities of these people impinges on all the characters in the book: on the elderly middle-class and anglicised Indians in the area, but also on the unnamed poor caught between the violence of the rebels and the brutality of the police. The young are also affected: Gyan, Sai's tutor, is a poor but educated Nepali; and initially they are very much in love. One central part of the story is how Gyan becomes drawn into the liberation movement and what that does to the relationship between him and Sai.

All this could have made for a very strong story line; but around it are pages and pages which contribute nothing to the plot, but mainly paint people and places, mostly in India, but also in New York where the cook's son is working.

At the end, one strand of the story finds a moving resolution; but many other strands are left as loose ends: perhaps a symbol that for such conflicted lives as are pictured in these pages there is not likely to be a resolution.

Kiran Desai writes engagingly, and I did enjoy reading this book; but I found it rather self-indulgent, meandering, and too loosely constructed to be really satisfying. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2006, so the judges obviously did not feel the same.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Mythic battles of past and present, justice and injustice.", 11 Feb 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
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Writing with wit and perception, Kiran Desai creates an elegant and thoughtful study of families, the losses each member must confront alone, and the lies each tells to make memories of the past more palatable. Sai Mistry is a young girl whose education at an Indian convent school comes to an end in the mid-1980s, when she is orphaned and sent to live with her grandfather, a judge who does not want her and who offers no solace. Living in a large, decaying house, her grandfather considers himself more British than Indian, far superior to hard-working but poverty-stricken people like his cook, Nandu, whose hopes for a better life for his son are the driving force in his life.
The story of Sai, living in Kalimpong, near India's northeast border with Nepal, alternates with that of Biju, Nandu's son, an illegal immigrant trying to find work and a better life in America. Biju, working in a series of deadend jobs, epitomizes the plight of the illegal immigrant who has no future in his own country and who endures deplorable conditions and semi-servitude working illegally in the US. As Desai explores the aspirations of Sai and Biju, the hopes and expectations of their families, and their disconnections with their roots, she also creates vivid pictures of the friends and relatives who surround them, creating a vibrant picture of a broad cross-section of society and revealing the social and political history of India.
Though Sai's romance, at sixteen, with Gyan, her tutor, provides her with an emotional escape from Kalimpong, it soon becomes complicated by Gyan's involvement with the Gorkha National Liberation Federation, a Nepalese independence movement which quickly becomes bloody. Gyan's commitment to the insurgency offers an ironic contrast with the commitment of his family to the colonial British army in earlier times, just as the judge's hatreds, learned in England, are ironically contrasted with his British affectations in later life.
A careful observer of behavior, with a fine eye for revealing details, Desai brings her narrative and characters to life, illustrating her themes without making moral judgments about her characters-creating neither saints nor villains, just ordinary people leading the best lives they can, using whatever resources are available. Her characters, like people from all cultures, make sacrifices for their children, behave cruelly toward people they love, reject traditional ways of life and old values, rediscover what is important to them, suffer at the hands of faceless government officials, and learn, and grow, and make decisions, sometimes ill-considered, about their lives. Dealing with all levels of society and many different cultures, Desai shows life's humor and brutality, its whimsy and harshness, and its delicate emotions and passionate commitments in a novel that is both beautiful and wise. Mary Whipple
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Justified Winner, 12 May 2010
As with many people, I only became familiar with Desai and 'The Inheritance of Loss' through her success in the Booker Prize and when I bought the book I was blissfully unaware of the divisive opinion the book has inspired since its victory. However, an eyebrow was pointedly raised when I unwrapped to find 'Kiran Desai' in bright pink, raised lettering splayed across the front cover. (As an aside, the pictured copy actually turned out to be very pleasant to read with a decent sized font, well-spaced.)

My concerns were quickly allayed when I got into the book and I found it immediately engaging and delicately constructed. I notice the book has received criticism for 'over-cooking' some of the destriptions but I found, although my favourite author is admittedly Nabokov, that the prose itself was very enjoyable, even poetic and certainly went beyond merely developing the characters and plot. So strong was the aesthetic value of the text that it was only when I finished the book and reflected on it that I realised how brutal and unkind much of the book actually was. This is surely a strength of Desai's writing that she managed to offset some of the less pleasant aspects of the plot with beautiful writing.

The characters in 'Inheritance' are also very well developing, albeit teasingly. The judge is introduced as a grumpy, eccentric and potentially loveable old man and I was surprised when it suddenly became apparant that through exploring threads of his past he was largely, a beast. The short paragraphs which switch focus between characters is also very conducive to developing a range of insight, and just as importantly, keeps the story spinning out nicely without getting mired in one strand of thought for too long.

Desai's writing in 'Inheritance' touches on some quite unpleasant themes (however as I say above, this doesn't neccessarily make for 'difficult' reading). Her style is refreshingly observational rather than didactic so ideas and conclusions are not forced but rather suggested and allow some personal interpretation of the central ideas of the book, which I think is crucial as generally people want a book to open their own minds rather than give the objective assertations of the author. Essentially it is a novel not a political manifesto. Interestingly, Desai manages to provoke an alternative view of immigration into the developed world where automatic assumptions about the inherent advantages of our 'lands of opportunity' and greater personal wealth should not be the hold the unquestioning totemic value that they do.

'Inheritance' is a pleasing length which manages to be both accessible and insightful - and best of all is an engrossing read. I highly recommend this book, though evidently there will be some dispute amongst reviewers!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Difficult to Follow but Hang in There, 5 Sep 2008
By 
A. O. P. Akemu "Ona" (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Inheritance of Loss (Paperback)
Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss had me by page 5. The novel is set in New York and in a picturesque Indian town near the India-Nepal border. The main characters are Sai, a 16-year old girl, who lives with her grumpy grandfather, a retired judge in India and Biju, the son of the Judge's cook, who is an illegal immigrant in New York.

The Judge, an impossibly difficult man, was once quite affluent but has fallen on hard times. The villa in which he resides is proof of his former affluence. His cook, on the other hand, has always been poor. His only hope to gain wealth is his son Biju, who has overstayed his tourist visa in the US. Biju, however, goes from bad luck to misfortune in his pursuit of the American dream. He cannot hold down a simple waiting job in New York and therefore has to sleep rough in New York to survive. However, as he navigates the dark underbelly of American urban life, his naive racial prejudices are challenged every step of the way. He meets and befriends a black man (also an illegal) from Tanzania, who seems to have gotten a "hang" of New York.

Meanwhile, back in India, Sai falls desperately in love with her Math teacher who happens to be Nepali. In class (and colour) conscious India, this relationship was doomed from the start. Furthermore, there is increasing social unrest from ethnic Nepalis clamouring for a homeland. Matters reach a head when the Judge is robbed at gun point by two Nepalese insurgents.

The novel concludes with Biju's homecoming. After spending 3 years in the US, the hapless Biju decides to return to India. Before reaching his village, he is robbed of all the money he has saved and has to walk home in a female night dress. Sad but very funny ending.

To be sure, The Inheritance of Loss has its flaws. The Judge, as educated as he is, is a cruel, cold and insecure man. He seems intent on meting out all his feelings of inferiority to everyone else. The Judge changed after 4 years at Cambridge. He seemed to have lost all connection to his native land after a brief spell in the UK. How plausible is this? Sai seems too clever by half for a 16 year old and the cook plays the stereotypical duplicitous and yet fawning `native' servant. Sai's Math teacher seemed to change overnight from a pliant student to a dyed-in-the-wool Nepali Nationalist. The change occurred so suddenly that it is difficult to believe.

However, the pace of the novel is fast and its examination of class in Indian society is poignant. I read the book while on vacation in Cuba and though the beach in Cuba was gorgeous, I could not wait to return to the novel after a dip in the sea. To my mind, the Inheritance of Loss lives up to the Booker Prize much like another favourite of mine, Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things. It deserves my 4 stars.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars super prose, insightful reflections, but lacking in substantive plot, 20 Mar 2007
Reading the Inheritance of Loss i had an immediate feeling of deja vu - John Banville's 'the sea', seemed to deal with similar issues of loss, grief, unfulfilment, and fitting in with a strange culture. Both novels share a similar narrative voice, but overall the sea was more affecting.

Kiran Desai creates some beautiful sentences and insightful reflections, such that i found myself reading the same paragraph several times over as i basked in its glory. However, each time she creates an interesting scene, usually regarding Biju's difficulties surviving in America, she concludes the scene early before any really drama can occur. In fact the book is broken into zillions of mini-chapters which for me breaks up the unfolding drama, decreasing its overall effect.

Generally the plot is fairly non-existant. Readers of 'the Sea' or some of ian mcewans work will be familiar with this concept i.e. that the book is an exploration of pop psychology and philosophy and doesn't possess an adrenaline pumping storyline.

Overall i found it very enjoyable mainly because of the prose and its comparison of Hindi and Western culture, albeit superficially.
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56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Half a classic, 25 Sep 2006
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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It took a while, but I've finally finished The Inheritance of Loss. Overall, I really enjoyed it, although the first half was really hard work.

Kiran Desai starts out narrating a number of stories.

There is the life of Sai and her grandfather, the judge. Both are native Indians, living on the Nepali border, but have been of middle class stock. They have a fading grandeur: once they were influential but as chaos descends upon their part of India, they become increasingly irrelevant. Sai's maths tutor, and briefly a suitor, starts to become embarrassed by her as he becomes more involved in the Gorkha separatist movement.

There is an engaging story of Biju - the son of the judge's cook. Buji is an overstayer in the USA, working illegally in a succession of fleapit cafes along with workers from all over the world. His father, the cook, dreams that Biju is having a better life.

There are various back stories, including a Swiss cheesemaker, a pair of retired ladies of leisure, a dog and a little cat.

For the first half of the novel, it is not clear exactly what direction things are going in. I found the Biju story quite captivating, but found events in India rather disjointed and, actually, rather dull. The frequent use of Indian words, in italics bit without a great deal of context, started to become irritating and there was a sense of drift.

In the second half, though, Biju is left forgotten as events focus on the disintegration of Gorkhaland into anarchy. The westernized Indians found themselves threatened by the insurgents and unable to trust the loyalties of the police, neighbours and closest confidantes. This descent was really quite horrifying and balanced the personal detail with the general destruction to perfection. The pace picked up and plot, characterisation and detail all seemed to sharpen into focus. One was left wondering, though, why we had invested so much emotion in Biju.

The ending, when it came, was sudden and not quite satisfactory. Too many threads were left hanging and I never really understood the significance of the final events.

I thought this was a dense book - half of it brilliant - but that it fell just short of being a classic. It made an interesting contrast to Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown, which also drew on Indian civil unrest; tension between western and eastern values; and the struggle of the personal values against the epic struggle of history. I think Rushdie hit the balance more successfully and reached a more satisfying conclusion. But this shouldn't detract from what Kiran Desai gets right in Inheritance. We should celebrate the half that is a classic rather than lament the half that is not.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Inheritance Of Loss by Kiran Desai, 12 July 2008
This review is from: The Inheritance of Loss (Paperback)
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Reverse Passage to India Filled with Wit, 25 Mar 2008
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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If you like humorous books about how people live self-sabotaging lives to preserve their illusions of superiority, The Inheritance of Loss will delight you. If you prefer a novel that carries a strong plot line and significant developments you cannot predict, you'll wonder why anyone would read this book.

As I read the book, I was reminded of P.G. Wodehouse's writing. Mr. Wodehouse's novels were all rather similar, silly, and filled with predictable situations. But on each page there was a sentence that was so novel, fresh, and intriguing that it would stop your eyes while you thought about what you had just read.

Ms. Desai demonstrates a similar ability to create startling writing, but in her case the writing brings out loud laughter . . . at least it does for me. My wife said she hadn't heard me laugh so much while reading a book in years.

Here's an example. A group of young men is demonstrating in favor of independence. One talks about a better world he wants to create: "We will provide jobs for our sons. We will give dignity to our daughters carrying heavy loads, breaking stone on the road." That vision of male liberation has to make you laugh.

The other genius of the book is demonstrated by the ironies that Ms. Desai shares with us to suggest that our dreams are pretty dangerous. Why are they so dangerous? Dreams assume we control what happens to use. Ms. Desai is describing a world where someone with a sense of humor is running the show. For example, her father strives hard to become an astronaut . . . but loses his life in a mundane accident in a country he would never have visited if he hadn't had such a dream.

You could draw the conclusion from that example that Ms. Desai is a cynic. Actually, she loves people and finds them comically naive when it comes to pursuing their dreams. Her prescription would be to get some good information and then choose a direction that is practical for accomplishing something you want. Too many of the dreams she portrays are about class, status, and envy. Those dreams should always be suspect. Her vision is of a world where those perceptions should be no longer relevant, as A Passage to India taught.

I liked the way that she combined the ideas of people traveling to other countries and to other parts of Asia in search of something that they thought they couldn't find at home. That's why I called the book a reverse Passage to India. The most developed characters in this book are Indians who left India for at least a time in search of their dreams.

Be prepared for much fun. The book's main drawback from my perspective is that the humorous sentences thinned out considerably in the final third of the book, giving the ending a tone that didn't match the earlier fun. The marvelous ironies continue but they aren't so much fun.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most beautiful of books.., 18 Jan 2009
This review is from: The Inheritance of Loss (Paperback)
Recovering from flu, I was given this book and wondered whether I had any energy to read.. I began it, and without interruption, read it right through in two days. I emerged into a wintery British landscape with my mind swirling with pictures of Kanchenjunga, the jungles of bamboo and sunlight, and the lives of people I had not met, yet who seemed to be more real than anyone else for several succeeding days.
The language is often quite extraordinarily beautiful; phrases and concepts which cling in the memory.. and a larger world than other reviews have highlighted. Kiran Desai writes with such perception, and such a quality of observation, it is a constant delight.
It is a story which deliciously glances into the life-journeys of disparate people, but especially at the hopes surrounding Biju whose father has contrived to pay his passage to USA, in the belief he will earn his fortune, and along the way somehow find amazing jobs for any friends who manage to make the journey after him. The father is cook to the tiny household of the retired Judge and his grand-daughter Sai: born to be blamed, but illuminated by his devotion to his son. Biju, existing among rats, in a sub-world of unceasing labour, saving to afford the good life, and somehow acquire his Green Card, is totally real. There are profound observations ..'some people travel the world to become servants, others travel the world to be treated like kings'... Biju, whose subterranean life cooking in a succession of restaurants, and being short-changed by all, has no chance to learn even the name of the river running through the city he exists in! His travels have earned him something which he no longer wants, and discovers he does not value, and we accompany him through the eyes and hopes of his father, as well as through his own buoyant hopefulness, to the discovery that in the end, like Little Gidding, we end up where we started... yet never the same again.
The scenery is fabulously beautiful, breathtaking... bamboo jungles, sunlight, and the extraordinary closeness of the mountains. But the book is so well-paced that these snapshots accompany, rather than dominate, the story. As it gathers speed, there is a vivid sense of society unravelling, and the start of an almost casual destruction by over-excited young men which effortlessly becomes a murderous regime, is drawn with a light touch.
I can recommend this book wholeheartedly: in every way. And it lifted me out of the flu, onto another plateau..
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