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The Inheritance Of Loss (2015)

The Inheritance of Loss (2015)
3.38 of 5 Votes: 1
0802142818 (ISBN13: 9780802142818)
grove press
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The Inheritance Of Loss (2015)
The Inheritance Of Loss (2015)

About book: I have had this book since 2006 when it won the Man Booker prize; the title really sang to me and the book itself seemed a siren call. Yet, it languished on my bookcase for five years before I finally read it. And I'm not sure whether it was worth the wait, or if it's actually better that I read it now, since every year my mind matures more and more.In the mountainous jungle region of Kalimpong in the Indian foothills of the Himalayas is a large stone house called Cho Oyu, built by a Scotsman but long since owned by "the judge", Jemubhai Patel, a cynical, bitter old man who doesn't seem to enjoy anything let alone his retirement. With him are his teenaged granddaughter, Sai; his only remaining servant, "the cook"; and his beloved dog, Mutt. The cook's only son, Biju, is in America, hopping from one shitty underpaid restaurant job to another in New York City, just one of many desperate illegal immigrants in the country.It is 1986 and the whole mountain is in turmoil as men clamour for separatism and a new Gorkhaland; the remains of British colonialism reside in those like the judge; his neighbours Noni and Lola, two sisters living together in their beautiful home called Mon Ami; and Uncle Potty and Father Booty; as well as in Sai, raised in a convent after her parents left to work for Russia's space program and then died in an accident. Violence arrives to the mountain, to Kalimpong and neighbouring Darjeeling, as does the monsoon summer. Cho Oyu grows a wide variety of fungus and mould, landslides force the hills to reshape themselves, and boy soldiers turn up to rob the locals of food and guns.The Inheritance of Loss is one of those wordy, determined novels that either speaks to you or doesn't. While the title certainly did, for me, the novel itself failed to connect with me mostly because of the prose style: the extremely omniscient third-person narrator that not only lays bare every secret cranny of the characters, but speaks for nations and culture and expectations and everything else it comes across, as well. It doesn't matter how well executed it may be, or how engaging the novel is overall: this prose style (whatever it's called; I wish I knew) has always bothered me and always will. I feel like I'm being lectured, being told the "one truth", and like the characters aren't allowed to speak for themselves. There's something very sweeping and arrogant about such a style, a certain smugness as if the narrator/author was well aware of just how perceptive they are. There's no room for the reader to be engaged and listen and deduce, only to be a passive recipient of the author/narrator's ultimate wisdom. There's no subtlety to it. And it gets my goat. Example (chosen randomly):Sai felt embarrassed. She was rarely in the cook's hut, and when she did come searching for him and enter, he was ill at ease and so was she, something about their closeness being exposed in the end as fake, their friendship composed of shallow things conducted in a broken language, for she was an English-speaker and he was a Hindi-speaker. The brokenness made it easier never to go deep, never to enter into anything that required an intricate vocabulary, yet she always felt tender on seeing his crotchety face, on hearing him haggle in the market, felt pride that she lived with such a difficult man who nonetheless spoke to her with affection, calling her Babyji or Saibaby. [p.21]Granted, there are times when the narrator is ironic and clever, and the lines are fun to read:"Come and visit uptown sometime, Biju man." Saeed quickly found employment at a Banana Republic, where he would sell to urban sophisticates the black turtleneck of the season, in a shop whose name was synonymous with colonial exploitation and the rapacious ruin of the third world. [p.112]There's a lot going on here, though for most of the novel I wondered where it was going and what the point was, so random did the segments and scenes seem to be. There's little movement in the plot, despite all that it covers: a civil unrest that is not well-known and is no less confusing after having read this - if anything, I'm completely bewildered. There are just so many ethnicities or races or nationalities (see, I don't even know who's who!) in the area, and I only recognised a few - Tibetans, Sherpas, Nepalis - and the way the characters discuss events, it's almost as if they don't want you to understand (or perhaps it's that the events are incomprehensible, nonsensical, or just so deeply mired in history that it's become a sticky mess). It reminded me a lot of The King’s Last Song, where the complicated war in Cambodia (and spill-over into Vietnam and onwards) as well as shifting borders made it very hard to follow what was going on. At one point, one of the characters here makes a comment about how bad the British are at drawing boundaries because they themselves are surrounded by water: it's a telling observation, because the borders drawn by Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and so on, have arguably caused more strife than any other factor.And I really, really, wanted to be able to follow what was going on. I love to learn from books, but I feel just as in the dark now as I did before having read the book. What interested me more were Biju's experiences in America, and the effects of colonialism on an independent India. So many characters, like the judge, worked hard to rid themselves of their Indianness in favour of Britishness, only to find that they're rejected by both India and England. The judge is a horrid, small-minded man, yet I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for him. What's interesting is that I found it so easy to identify, or feel familiar with, those Indians who seem so British - the judge, Noni and Lola, Sai, not because I liked the more but because I could picture them so well. Most of the time I forgot they were Indian at all.Which is rather the point of the novel, and one of the things I loved about the book. The effects of colonialism on the area, and the people, continue to be felt, and The Inheritance of Loss is all about this, and race, and trying to find a place in the world - a world that doesn't seem to want them. For the Indians truly come across as a sorry, lost and bewildered bunch in Desai's novel, desperate liars, exaggerators, mostly concerned with trying to fool their neighbours. The cook is a prime example, as is Mrs Sen and her constant war of pride with Lola over whose daughter is the most successful in their careers overseas. Biju's experiences in America show that Indians are at the bottom of the chain of immigrants, not even allowed to apply for residency because they're so unwanted (this came as a surprise to me, and I'm not sure if it's accurate).One thing that the book truly succeeded at, was making me be very conscious of my own status in the world: white, English-speaking, dual-citizen of two prosperous western countries, well-educated, very much the product of being born white - and privileged because of it. I'm as aware of my white privilege as I can be, but being aware doesn't make it easy to understand what being not-white is like - but reading books like The Inheritance of Loss brings me a step closer. I have a great love of colonial literature - both the kind written during colonialism by colonists, and contemporary novels about it or set in that time, perhaps because of the emotions they stir in me.The other thing worth mentioning about this book is the house, Cho Oyu, which Desai clearly tried to bring alive and use as a metaphor for larger issues: the colonial house built by a foreigner who moved in, used the natives, then ditched it, leaving it in the hands of the tight-fisted and deeply bitter judge while it rotted around them. This made me think of how we white western lot do tend to think that we're better at running non-white countries than their true inhabitants, as long as it's on our terms. It's a kind of arrogance we've inherited.Overall, this is a thought-provoking book but it's arrogant know-it-all omniscient narrator (another indirect metaphor?) made it hard for me to appreciate it as much as I'd like to.

this was my re-read, but didnot feel so as I had already forgotten many of the pertinent events. The beauty of the language hit me again - I just devoured the sentences, sometimes going back to read twice or thrice. The story deals with the events occuring during the Gorkha revolution in the eighties in a small place called Kalimpong in West Bengal (?supposedly close to Nepal and Sikkim). It shows how the revolution affected and molded those who were pro and anti Gorkhaland, and how innocent ordinary people who caught in between suffered the most. The language is beautiful, the scenery is magnificent. I loved the prose. Only thing I didn;t like much were the last few pages which were too pessimistic and dismal.a few lines from the book :'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 hte emotion itself.''The light diminished now, to a filament, tender as Edison's first miracle held between delicate pincers of wire in the glass globe of the bulb. It glowed a last blue crescent, then failed.'a 20 year old young man is leaving home for England for higher studies 'at home his mother was weeping because she had not estimated the imbalance between the finality of good-bye and the briefness of the last moment'when someone throws away the food his mother had lovingly prepared for him'Undignified love, Indian love, stinking, unaesthetic love - the monsters of the ocean could have what she had so bravely packed getting up in that predawn mush''He leaned back so that his face was in the shade and his toes were in the sun, and sighed: all was right with the world. The primary components were balanced, the hot and cold, the liquid and solid, the sun and shade''but when he tried to test the depth of her eyes with his, her glance proved too slippery to hold; he picked it up and dropped it, retrieved it, dropped it again until it slid away and hid'this is regarding two new lovers throwing glances at each other..
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I come away with a lot better impression than that which I had upon reading the first 30 or so pages. It is a mature writing, with insight, sophistication, and a sense of the grandly tragic.The author weaves a series of parallel stories--imageries--about some very different lives, each quixotic, each distinguished with a color of it own. All except one has only one thing in common--they are all cultural implants, all dancing in their separate destinies, spinning towards their fate that makes them destitutes. Even the one exception--Gyan, the tutor--who is not a cultural implant, also becomes alienated from himself through the greater forces of time against which he is powerless. The book is an exploration of what makes us seek or reject our cultural identities, the tragedy that identification brings, and, like a bolt of lightening near the end, gives us the hint of a most ancient seeking that is the primitive archetype of all identities--our physical inheritance.The novel weaves a series of vivid, parallel, worlds of intellect, emotion, culture, and geography, against the backdrop of the Colonial Raj, the 'Mother England', the new Indian republic and its growing pains, and of economic immigrants to the US. The writing is mesmerizing. The Himalayan ranges that blink through the cloud now and then majestically over the horizon remind us of the lofty ideals that are stepped on by the mortals. Abstract and intellectual in its aspirations, the novel is remarkably mature in its absence of proselytism. The younger Desai is one pukka novelist. Read the book.
I bought this book on recommendation of a friend-we just saw it out of the blue.Even though I plan to read all the Booker nominees and winners one day,this one wasn't high on my list and I only started reading it in an attempt to diminish the imposing pile of books waiting to be read.When I finished The God of Small Things in 2012,I wondered if I would ever read a book like this again.In the years that passed by,I read quite a few sublime classics,but I still hadn't found a book that would let me delve into the Indian folklore.That was until I read The Inheritance of Loss.There is no main character in that book.It revolves about the past and struggles of a good number of characters in Kalimpong,and accordingly switches back and forth between the past and the present.There is also a major political uproar in the village.What makes Desai on par with Arundhati Roy is her fluid and authentic narration.The tension reigning over Kalimpong and the sadness of the characters are palpable.She is a post-modernist author,and the feelings her words translate are not barred by grammatical or syntax conformity.There are 53 chapters in total in that book,but they're short and are quickly read.It is rarely the case where three or more chapters will deal with the same character,so the reader is quite never bored.Also the liberty Desai granted herself in writing that book is unbelievable,and for me,is what makes the book one of the best written in the post-modernist era.Every character is different and peculiar,and Desai changes her words accordingly.When the cook's father was asked what his son can cook,for instance,no space is seen in-between the different desserts and dishes listed; this lack of punctuation marks in a sense convey the desperation of the man.Likewise the reader might occasionally stumble upon very post-modernist things,such as a Matryoshka version of the word ''PAW''.The English language is also exceptionally beautiful.I have never come across an author with such a dense vocabulary.Her love for the English transpires through the novel,and is a delight to the eyes.But despite playing around with textures,sentence structures and language,poignancy and meaning are upheld in that book - some Indian authors seem to have a knack for doing just that! The characters are unique and so are their struggles,and one can easily relate to most of them.I won't expand any further here,lest some spoilers are disclosed.All in all,The Inheritance of Loss is a colourful,formidable book that,as the critics say,ought to be read and re-read.The language and the sentences are like you have never seen in any book before.A unique piece of literature.One can learn so much from Kiran Desai....
Marlon James
When I finally met Salman Rushdie (!!!!) within seconds we got to talking about this book. Like Moshin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Inheritance tackles radical territory, more radical than you might think. Both novels break from the traditional immigrant novel by having the main character break from the country of adoption and return to the country of origin. Sure the act is nothing new, but the post 9/11 instability is. This is a lot more striking than you might think— the basic concept of the immigrant novel, from Amy Tan to Rushdie was co-existence, a belief in the ultimate greatness of mongrel culture; the character finding some way to come to terms and perhaps even thrive in the country of adoption. In Inheritance, two generations of immigrant return and both experience the fundamental instability that comes from divorcing where you're from, but never fitting in with where you're at.
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