Review of "The Inheritance of Loss" by Kiran Desai

Literature Review, 2011

6 Pages


The Inheritance of Loss

Kiran Desai wrote the novel The Inheritance of Loss and it is conferred the Man Booker prize in 2006, National Critics Circle Fiction Award in 2007 and the 2006 Vodafone Crossword Book Award. Desai is the youngest female to win the Booker prize.

Kiran Desai was born in New Delhi in 3rd January 1971. At 14 years of age, she and her mother moved to England. In one year, they moved to USA. Her first novel is Hullaballo in the Guava Orchard. Desai is woman. It is generally expected that any female writer can portray only the female psyche and characters, as protagonists. Desai proves it as narrow prediction. In this novel, she is dexterously able to portray male psyche. She is daughter of prominent writer Anita Desai, who was thrice shortlisted for Booker Prize. Her daughter won it for The Inheritance of Loss. This is Kiran Desai’s second novel.

The loci are Kalimpong and New York. The two worlds of these two places are totally different. A mundane reality of the two places is rather visible. Undoubtedly, the marginalized human beings of both the places are shown in the novel. It is to be noted that New York is a renowned place in earth. Whereas, Kalimpong was rather unknown until Desai took notice of it. Kalimpong is micro setting in comparison to New York. And Desai could relate the two places finely as nothing lesser than one part of the earth with one kind of human beings. Desai realized that one’s place in earth is merely incidental. It is matter of perspective too. The location cannot be firm at all. The past, present and future too are part of the location.

The protagonists of the story are the retired judge, his grand-daughter Sai, their cook, and Biju, the son of the cook. There are peripheral characters that too help in the development of various themes through their different tales. The novel opens with Sai, her anglophile grandfather, the cook and the dog Mutt. Gyan is the lover of Sai. Biju, Lola, Noni, SaeedSaeed, and Harish-Harry are other important characters. These characters are spread between New York and Kalimpong.

The characters stand against their personal spheres with larger issues of political turmoil, racialism, immigrant experiences, and regionalism. Kiran Desai clams all these experiences of the characters in one story. They are in their own journeys. The personal identity of each character is revealed. Yet these are related to global issues. Almost all the characters have encounters with the West. Gyan, who confesses that he was only human and so sometimes weak, echoes the other characters too. The anglophile Judge had only turned into self-hatred. When Sai saw Gyan in the rebellion, she walked home slowly. Situations like this foiled the personal hopes of love and affairs. The revolution was threatening the personal joys of Sai, a minor girl. The cook tried to remind Sai that the capabilities of Gyan were not bright. Sai is affected by Gyan, who gets involved in the ethnic, Nepali revolution. It is observed often that love takes place amidst unequal partners. The result of this love also is unequal. Their bash-up adds to her loneliness too. The extremist rebellion has dented their kinship and spurted out the repressed differences. Both Sai and Gyan suddenly start becoming aware of the class of each other. The turmoil of the public agitation seems to unearth many truths about the characters. The revolution acts symbolic here.

The dormant feelings gets vent with the help of this symbolic revolution. The revolution made the judge, Jemubhai vulnerable, due to his hunting rifles. The Gorkhaland agitation creeps in the lives of the characters. The judge when away from chess would look like a mask put on his face. Suddenly, he would remember his personality and go back to his chess. The desire of the Gorkhaland has led to a revolution. They wanted a homeland where they would not be treated as servants. Young boys in this attempt to become men, looted houses and collected ammunition. There turns out to be so much of chaos that the natives there think of not flushing for saving water. Neighbour turns against neighbour. There was absence of gas and kerosene. Biju, in America was facing the parallel universe of displacement and stumbling from one job to another. The negative aspects of living as an illegal alien in New York are seen. The universe was not in the business of justice. To all these, even the sun was hot and cast no shadow. This casting of no shadow by the Sun, reminds of noon-time, metaphoric of the crisis at its zenith.

The judge, who always identified himself with the British, stands in the width of shade of the knife. The shadows of the nights chomped as if, like his memories of past. This man, Jemubhai, who dressed for dinner, even in the jungle, later, remains without socks all the time. The physical identities seemed to have gone crossed too along with the inner recesses. He has just one friend in his world, Bose. His constant lonely companionship with chess without a dual player reminds and signifies the white British Empire, which ruled many parts of the world without a competitor at par. It was almost a one-sided kingship and domination. This kind of representation coincides with any contemporary age, where there might be just one or a few leaders to follow. The embittered, reptilian judge is lost in the symbolic chessboard and in his memories of humiliation in a foreign land. The life of the judge is so lonely that only a pet dog can fit in his solitude. This also echoes the common cliché that one who thinks and behaves as superior is likely to be left alone. He had no cementing relation in the past with his illiterate wife. Now, in the present, he can build no relation with granddaughter, Sai, although, they lived under the same roof. The signs and themes of loss, loneliness and racialism-impacts are seen in the life of the judge. He is disgusted with human beings, after bitter racial experiences during the Cambridge days. Actually, we are all historically situated despite it is of contemporary events.

Biju is another victim of loneliness and loss, in the dual Indian-American upbringing. Almost all characters are lonely and unfulfilled from each other, in the nation or outside it. Biju is an illegal migrant, who went to America as cheap labourer. The life of Biju can be compared and contrasted with his father. Both remain labourers. It is ironical that the cook is nationless inside the nation. His son, Biju, is nationless outside. Both are suffering from their own sense of loss, truth, untruths, and loneliness. The American Dream is inadequate to fulfill the emotional and basic needs of Biju. It goes ironical with the Judge who is ashamed and dislikes his heritage, culture and even the colour of his skin. He fuels the sense of rejection in his soul in his whole life. The clashes of races, classes, cultures, generations, are filtered through the characters.

There is a concurrent telling of the story of two different kinds of Diasporas - that of undocumented and thereby exploited blue-collar immigrants in New York and an ageing, elitist cluster of Indian professionals settled post retirement in a remote Gurkha hill station. Both Diasporas face challenges of a normally globalized society that is paradoxically fraught with increasingly exclusivist, separatist, and nationalistic agendas. Diaspora collapses the boundaries between the first world and the third world while simultaneously enforcing them. Earlier, Britain could not hem the gaps as the colonizer of commonwealth nations. Today, the United States has failed too and the apparel only tatters further.

Excerpt out of 6 pages


Review of "The Inheritance of Loss" by Kiran Desai
Assam University
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review, inheritance, loss, kiran, desai
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Mumtaz Mazumdar (Author), 2011, Review of "The Inheritance of Loss" by Kiran Desai, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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