Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book Review: The Inheritance of Loss

"Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself." 

                                   Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss

The Inheritance of Loss is a novel written by Kiran Desai, an Indian author living in the United States. The novel won her the 2006 Man Booker Prize. This book has been sitting on my bookshelf since the past 3 years but somehow until now, I never got around to reading it. This weekend I made up my mind that I would catch up on my reading. There is nothing that feeds my soul more that a good book! Here are some of my thoughts on the book.

The story is set in the post-colonial period in the hill station of Kalimpong in Darjeeling and revolves around five main characters. There is the sullen and resentful old judge who shares the only loving relationship his life has seen with his dog Mutt, his cook, a pitiful old man whose only reason for living is his son Biju, Biju, a confused immigrant torn between two worlds, Sai, the judge's feisty teenage granddaughter and the object of Sai's affection, the capricious young tutor Gyan. The story offers an insight into the impact of western colonialism on the lives of ordinary Indians. It also tackles the communal mayhem that arose from the inception of the proposed state known as Gorkhaland demanded by the Nepali speaking Gorkha ethnic group in Darjeeling. Caught in a web of post-colonial anarchy and the violence of the separatist movement, you see the characters struggle with loss of identity and this internal conflict leads them to be confused, easily influenced and often humiliated and frustrated. The reader is able to appreciate the desire of the characters to infuse a fruitless life with some meaning and improve the situation they are in but yet fearful of doing so owing to self-doubt, prejudice, intimidation or helplessness. 

Resting at the foot of the Himalayas, Kalimpong comes to life with the vivid description of the Teesta river, Mount Kanchenjunga, villages and monsoons. A picture begins to form in your mind as you are reading which is testament to the author's imagination. However, I did feel the excessive use of physical description in several places was unnecessary and that only detracted from the main plot. Let me give you an example with a sentence that the author uses to describe the affluence of a family of one of the characters: "Bomanbhai’s wife’s earlobes lengthened with the weight of South African diamonds, so great, so heavy, that one day, from one ear, an ear-ring ripped through a meteor disappearing with a bloody clunk into her bowl of srikhand". In my opinion this description only brings a sense of revulsion to the reader and little else. Also,the book sees several characters coming in and out in no particular order as you flip the pages and it does feel that some of them are disposable. The undue importance given to the frivolous characters is just distracting to the reader. 

The book is not what I would call engrossing but it is intelligent, insightful and a lot of the author's perspective rings true (especially if you are an Indian). It might seem bitter and stinging at times but we must admit that reality often dons the garb of unpleasantness. There are books that tell you stories and then there are books that make you re-think about what you thought you already knew. This book belongs to the latter category. The character I found most intriguing was in fact that of the judge. In spite of being despicable, the way this complex character has been defined is marvelous. His experiences in Cambridge and the kind of relationship he has with his wife Nimmi is riveting. I was left yearning for more on his relationship with his daughter and granddaughter Sai. I would have liked that aspect of the book to have been highlighted a bit more. In conclusion, even though on the whole, I did think the book was a tad underwhelming, the writing is undeniably good and though-provoking. 

My rating for this book is

Have you read this book? If yes, what did you think about it? I would love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment to let me know....


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