Category Archives: Kiran Desai

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

The Inheritance Of LossIt is not a badly written book. But not one “that” well written to deserve an award, and least of all one as prestigious as the Booker. So why did The Inheritance of Loss win the Booker?

Answer:

a) The rest in running were no better

b) The judges blundered

c) My perceptions are, well, questionable.

 

I hope it is option c. But reading the book I felt otherwise.

 

Sai, an orphaned teenager whose parents died tragically in Moscow, is left to the care of a reclusive and disillusioned grandfather, a retired Judge and former ICS officer of the British era, now residing in a desolate Kalimpong bungalow. The judge has a cook, whose son Biju is an illegal immigrant in the States, jumping from one small time job to another to stay afloat. The book hovers between the present life of Sai, the judge and the cook in Kalimpong in the backdrop of the Gorkhaland movement, and Biju’s struggle to find a foothold in New York, interspersed with flashbacks of the judge’s past, his cruelties and illusions of grandeur that have soured his taste for life

 

 

So why is this much vaunted book undeserving of its praise and accolades? Here I attempt a brief five point reasoning:

  1. Stiltedness : The overall effect appears stilted. It seems the author has tried to force fit herself into ideas of the region and its political climate (Kalimpong, Gorkhaland), the characters, and the result has carried forth in the writing. It has lead to characters hard to empathize with, despite numerous situations where it is called for.

  2. Exoticism : There seems to be a clear intent to sell this book to people who are not familiar to India. Exoticism can go beyond mangoes, guavas or chutneys. They tread into long stereotyped rituals like child marriage, subjugation of women, negativism among low level business class Indian immigrants in the USA and so son. The writer’s desire of satire, if any, falls flat, the humour impotent.

  3. Incoherence : While the narrative shifts from present to past, from Kalimpong to New York, from Gorkhaland politics and marginalised victims to Saeed Saeed and his desperateness of becoming an American citizen, the transitions are ill made and jittery, hardly Booker calibre.

  4. Bad dialogue : The dialogues in Inheritence are not only pathetic but also profuse, which adds to the pain.

  5. Failed experimentation: Desai tries non conventional structures, like an oddly punctuated list, or expressions, in the middle of a paragraph. Or even broken half formed sentences given the fullness of whole. While this is novel and does garner some attention, it is not hard to notice the lack of any resounding effect in outcome. Experimentation for its own sake. While Rushdie creates power and Arundhati Roy almost poetry, Desai manages only a hodge podge of something needless.

 

Is the book really that bad? By no means.You can certainly give it a try, though you might be hard pressed to finish it. Desai deserves credit for the research in hill politics and civil servant’s lives, for coming up with something substantial to say in over three hundred pages that perhaps took her years to write and which in no way can be undermined by a review that has taken only minutes. My regret is that with all the content for drama and conflict, the possibility of scintillating characterization and scope, the work frizzles out to produce only something average, that someone will read and forget, with its characters hardly lasting in our memories.

That is where the book fails, and the reason why I felt that option (a) or (b), or both combined is the most plausible answer to the question I had earlier asked.