Here's an interview with the author.
CHO Oyu, a crumbling old house in the foothills of the Himalayas, is home to the main characters of Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, one of six books on the Man Booker Prize 2006 shortlist.
Sai is bundled off to convent boarding school when her parents leave India to take part in the Soviet space programme, and is orphaned when they meet an untimely death under the wheels of a Moscow bus. The only relative she has left is her grandfather, Jemubhai.
The former judge has totally withdrawn from life, investing all his emotional energy in his dog, Mutt. Sai’s presence in the house serves to break down the barriers the sour old man has built up against the weight of deeply shaming memories.
The judge’s cook, Nandu, a poor man grown old before his time, becomes the closest thing to family that Sai has. Yet he, too, nurses an anguish – his son Biju has left for America in the hope of a better life, and all that binds them is a fragile chain of letters.
Sai is hungry for tenderness and falls in love with her physics tutor Gyan, a young Nepalese boy. But when the two find themselves on opposite sides of a bitter racial conflict, the reader is kept wondering whether they will be able to summon enough maturity to weather their differences.
The situation is made more complicated when a rag-tag band of Gorka National Liberation Front guerrillas comes to the house to look for the judge’s old hunting rifles, and it is clear that Sai and her grandfather have been betrayed.
The Inheritance of Loss dips backwards and forwards in time, combines several different narrative threads and moves between three continents. It’s a very ambitious novel. Nevertheless, Desai manages to steer it away from being overly complex and bitty by providing a strong thematic link between the various subplots.
The novel explores the Indian obsession with the move overseas in the hope of a better life elsewhere, and the uneasy compromises it forces. Desai chronicles two journeys abroad which cleverly echo each other.
Jemubhai lies awake remembering how he was packed off to Cambridge just before the Second World War and cast off his Indianess to become an English gentleman, finding himself caught between two worlds and being fully accepted by neither.
Biju becomes part of an ever shifting army of illegal workers that moves from one underpaid restaurant job to another in kitchens which are a microcosm of the Third World.
He finds himself seeking “a clarity of principle” as he observes the uneasy relationship others have with their Indian roots and finding their place in a foreign country.
It is impossible not to feel deeply for the characters and there is a deep vein of melancholy running through the novel, although the book ends on a note of cautious optimism.
Sadness, too, is counterbalanced by a wealth of comic detail and by some of the most delightfully exuberant and playful writing I’ve come across recently.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
From my review of Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss in Starmag today. It's funny and sad and very very relevant in its discussion of how we adapt when we move away from our roots, and the writing's wonderful.