BOOK REVIEW: Inheritance of Loss

By Kiran Desai Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired Cambridge-educated judge living in Kalimpong, in a house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga, that shows little sign of its former glory, with his granddaughter and their cook.
L-R:Fils Clement Ndahiro; Justin Ndoli
L-R:Fils Clement Ndahiro; Justin Ndoli

By Kiran Desai

Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired Cambridge-educated judge living in Kalimpong, in a house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga, that shows little sign of its former glory, with his granddaughter and their cook.

The action focuses on the lives of the judge his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, who moves to live with him and his cook.

When a Nepalese insurgency disturbs the region, Jemubhai becomes vulnerable because of his hunting rifles.
The revolution also threatens the blossoming relationship between 16-year-old Sai and her Nepalese tutor, Gyan.

The characters’ lives are intertwined with the story of the cook’s son, Biju, who experiences the negative aspects of living as an illegal alien in New York.

The judge has retreated to this house, Cho Oyu, to spend the rest of his days alone (with his beloved dog, Mutt) trying to forget about his disappointing past.

His granddaughter Sai was brought to her grandfather after the parents she barely knew died in Russia, and now she has fallen in love with her science tutor, Gyan.

The cook, Nandu, has pinned all his hopes on the son, Biju, whom he sent to America.

Biju’s experiences in America are detailed in linear sequences, interspersed with moments of tender and lyrical nostalgia.

Like many migrants, Biju forgets the harshness of his life as a servant’s son, and recalls only the most sensuous textures: minarets, bangles, samosas, riverside, and sugarcane.

By contrast, the Indian sections are multi-vocal, switching from orphaned Sai’s point of view and her meager store of memories to the judge’s recollections of his days as a West-struck student abroad that reveal, gradually and in fragments, the secrets of his abusive marriage and his abandonment by his despised wife.

The Inheritance Of Loss seemed to promise to take us somewhere in this globalized confusion of identity, motive, routine, unrealized dreams and intangible desires, but eventually it seemed to have nothing to add to a sense of “well that’s how it is”, which is precisely where we started.

There was an opportunity for more, but it was ducked.
The book covers Indian politics, Ghurka revolts, English colonization, Indian emigration to the US and UK, everyday vanities and pride in petty things, how people destroy their own lives, how people can be cruel to one another but also, but Desai has a sharp eye for detail.

You may not like what she is telling you, but you keep listening, because you can learn important tidbits of information from her.

However, Desai’s work is thoroughly enjoyable and has achieved greatness by winning the greatest prize in the world of books, the man booker prize in 2006.

Ends

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