Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai: a review

The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai, is up for an Orange Prize in 2007, after winning the Man Booker in 2006. I read the book last fall (along with my book group) and enjoyed it, though maybe not as much as the Booker folks did.

The book tells the story of 16-year-old orphan Sai, who has come to Kalimpong, a hill station in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, to live with her crusty, old grandfather Jemubhai Patel, a retired judge, who is more attached to his dog than to his granddaughter, or to any other human. In parallel is the story of Biju, son of the judge's cook, who has gone to America to make money, and struggles there in menial jobs.

The book is what I call a time travelogue, transporting me to another time and place, this time northern India on the eve of revolution in the late 1980s. I think the writer has done a beautiful job describing the time and place, and I like Sai, her budding romance with her Nepalese tutor Gyan, and all of the colorful minor characters who populate Sai's small world.

I kept hoping for Sai's relationship with her grandfather to develop, and become redemptive for him. I also wanted Biju's story to intersect with Sai's, and for the climactic moments of revolutionary violence to play out more in the characters' lives. But I thought the writing was strong and lyrical, and I really enjoyed Desai's depiction of Kalimpong.

One of my book groupers sent me a picture of Kalimpong, which was great to have while reading the book. Can't find it, or I'd post it here--it looks like a beautiful place.

1 comment:

bethany said...

I just read this, and I do agree with your wishes for sai and her grandfather,as well as for sai and Bigu...but I think that was part of the loss part.

Anyway, great review!!!