Category Archives: Book Awards Reading Challenge

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.

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

Paddy ClarkePaddy Clarke is not a funny story. The overwhelming feeling is one of palpable sadness, despite several humourous episodes, especially towards the earlier parts of the book. Ten year old Paddy, the eldest son of a large Irish family in fictitious(?) Barrytown of the sixties, thoroughly enjoys the company of his friends – Kevin, Liam, Aidan, Ian McEvoy and James O’Keefe – playing football, stealing magazines, knocking on doors to pester unsuspecting neighbours, writing names in wet cement, tussles among each other, and even the cruel Zentoga cult ritual. He also loves his younger brother, whom he endearingly calls Sinbad, though he is mostly a bully to him, giving him dead legs and showing him who’s the eldest, more out of habit, because little brothers are to be hated. There are numerous amusing incidents, one where an inspired Paddy plays Father Damien, and gets Sinbad to play a leper.

–Do it again.

Sinbad grabbed my legs.

–No, no, Kam – Kam

—Kamiano!

—I can’t remember it.

—Kamiano.

—Can I not just say Patrick?

—No, I said. Do it again and you’d better get it right.

—I don’t want to.

I gave him half a Chinese torture. He grabbed my legs.

—Lower down.

—How?

—Lower.

—You’ll kick me.

—I won’t. I will if you don’t.

Sinbad grabbed me around the ankles. He held me tight so my feet were stuck.

—No, no Kamiano! We want to stay as long as you are here.

—Okay my children, I said. —You can stay.

—Thanks very much, Kamiano, said Sinbad.

He wouldn’t let go of my feet.

 

As Paddy’s Ma and Da begin to drift apart, he becomes increasingly aware of their rift, the raised voices, slamming doors, the tense moods. He tries to reason: “Why didn’t Da like Ma?” His Ma was fine, much nicer than others’. It must be Da. “It was all him against her”. But in the end, he decides “it took two to Tango”.

There must have been a reason why he hated Ma. There must be something wrong with her, at least one thing. I couldn’t see it. I wanted to. I wanted to understand. I wanted to be on both sides. He was my da.

In the wake of the separation, Paddy’s own world begins to change. He picks a fight with his best friend Kevin, falls out of his group, finds himself isolated. But he has grown up, starting to see himself as the “man of the house”, for his father would leave. “They were only kids” — he forgives the teasing of his erstwhile friends.

Roddy Doyle’s prose is sparse, his minimalistic style revealing Paddy’s world in an unsentimental manner. He retains a narrative that is inchoate and jumbled, very appropriate for the perspective of a ten year old. The combination turns out to be a very effective one, making us powerfully aware of the cruelties we are capable of and how the bitterness of parents can cloud the lives of their children.

Book Awards Reading Challenge

Here’s motivation for the coming days.

bookawardsfinal.jpg

The ones finished have links to review pages.

Commonwealth Writers’

1992 – Rohinton Mistry, Such a Long Journey

1994 – Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

1996 – Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance

 

Booker

1974 The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer

1981 Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

1989 The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

1993 Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

1997 The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

1998 Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan

1999 Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

2006 The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

 

Pulitzer

2000 – Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri