56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Half a classic,
This review is from: The Inheritance of Loss (Hardcover)
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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 15 Sep 2009 15:03:00 BDT
Ruth Mcdermott says:
Hi - BBC World Book Club here. We have Kiran on our programme soon and need questions from people who have read the book. Do you have a question you'd like to put to Kiran Desai on her book The Inheritance of Loss? If so, please email email@example.com
Posted on 15 Sep 2009 15:03:07 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 15 Sep 2009 15:05:40 BDT]
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