Sunday, July 19, 2009
The Inheritance of Loss
When Sai's parents are killed in an accident in Russia she is sent to live with her grandfather, a retired judge, in a moldering mansion in the beautiful foothills of the Himalayas. Kiran Desai's Booker winning novel (2006) chronicles Sai's passage into adulthood and her first infatuation and the struggle of Biju, son of the judge's cook, who is trying to make his way in the underbelly of New York in the 1980s. Their stories are set against the political backdrop of the Nepalese uprising. The characters of Sai, her Nepalese boyfriend, Gyan, The Cook, The Judge, Biju and even Mutt, the dog, are finely crafted. We gain considerable insight into the idyllic postcolonial lifestyle lived by the foreign-educated anglophile elite. They share a nostalgia for the good old days and the British Empire that seems tragically misplaced. The judge has allowed the discrimination he encountered while in school in England to fade from his memory and he embraces the foreign culture because he despises his own. In fact he despises almost everything but his granddaughter and his dog. Desai moves seamlessly from jolly old Cambridge society to modern-day Kalimpong and New York City. Immigration is placed under the microscope :"It was horrible what happened to Indians abroad and nobody knew but other Indians abroad. It was a dirty little rodent secret."
The novel culminates in a clash between various realities: that of the pampered upper class, the poverty stricken Nepalese and the immigrants. All are forced to re-evaluate their position in the modern world. A great read.