The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai is a multifaceted novel which weaves the motifs of family, class and experience of living the life of an outsider into a beautiful storyline. The book is primarily set in Kalimpong, a small town situated at the foothills of Himalayas in the mid 1980’s during the tension in Nepal for the establishment of a separate Gorkha State. Though, like many of its characters, the book connects two lands- one of the main storylines is that of Biju who has emigrated from Kalimpong and is living in NYC. The counter to Biju’s story of struggle as an immigrant in NYC is that of the Judge, the Judge’s grand-daughter Sai and Biju’s father, “Cook” all living in an isolated house in Kalimpong.

There an unrest breaks in Kalimpong over the establishment of a new Gorkha state, Judge, Cook and little Sai are all forced to face the toppling of a hierarchy that has defined their lives, for worse or better. Kiran Desai skillfully narrates each of their life in stories, albeit in bits and pieces all through the book, and connects them to each other bit by bit. In the meantime, away from the Kalimpong, Biju who is living in a different kind of disarray by waiting tables and eking out his existence as an illegal immigrant in NYC. There are various themes and internal emotions in the book but the immigrant’s sense of displacement is the one which dealt with special care and attention which really resonated me.

A careful observer of human behavior, with an eye for revealing details like her mother, Kiran Desai brings her story and characters to life, illuminating her themes without making any moral judgment about the characters- creating neither Saints nor Satan, just normal human being leading the lives as best as they can, using the meager available resources. Her characters, like people from diverse background, behave cruelly toward people they love, rediscover what is significant to them, who makes sacrifices for their children, discard old traditional ways of life and values, suffers at the hand of faceless government officials, and learn, and grow, and make decisions,  sometimes hasty or ill-considered, about their lives.  Dealing with all levels of society and diverse culture, Desai show’s life with humor and brutality, its quirkiness and harshness, and its tantalizing emotions and passionate commitments in a book that is both stunning and sensible.

Rating: 4.5/5


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