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The Inheritance of Loss Paperback – August 29, 2006

3.2 out of 5 stars 260 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This stunning second novel from Desai (Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard) is set in mid-1980s India, on the cusp of the Nepalese movement for an independent state. Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired Cambridge-educated judge, lives in Kalimpong, at the foot of the Himalayas, with his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, and his cook. The makeshift family's neighbors include a coterie of Anglophiles who might be savvy readers of V.S. Naipaul but who are, perhaps, less aware of how fragile their own social standing is—at least until a surge of unrest disturbs the region. Jemubhai, with his hunting rifles and English biscuits, becomes an obvious target. Besides threatening their very lives, the revolution also stymies the fledgling romance between 16-year-old Sai and her Nepalese tutor, Gyan. The cook's son, Biju, meanwhile, lives miserably as an illegal alien in New York. All of these characters struggle with their cultural identity and the forces of modernization while trying to maintain their emotional connection to one another. In this alternately comical and contemplative novel, Desai deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating the pain of exile, the ambiguities of post-colonialism and the blinding desire for a "better life," when one person's wealth means another's poverty.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

From The New Yorker

Desai's second novel is set in the nineteen-eighties in the northeast corner of India, where the borders of several Himalayan states—Bhutan and Sikkim, Nepal and Tibet—meet. At the head of the novel's teeming cast is Jemubhai Patel, a Cambridge-educated judge who has retired from serving a country he finds "too messy for justice." He lives in an isolated house with his cook, his orphaned seventeen-year-old granddaughter, and a red setter, whose company Jemubhai prefers to that of human beings. The tranquillity of his existence is contrasted with the life of the cook's son, working in grimy Manhattan restaurants, and with his granddaughter's affair with a Nepali tutor involved in an insurgency that irrevocably alters Jemubhai's life. Briskly paced and sumptuously written, the novel ponders questions of nationhood, modernity, and class, in ways both moving and revelatory.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (August 29, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802142818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802142818
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (260 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Cheryl Carruth on March 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
There are moments I love in this book... poignant observations that made me smile and think how brilliantly she'd nailed some unshakeable truth in life. There were details I enjoyed, such as on insects: "entire nations appeared boldly overnight." I loved the gentleness and clever vagueness with which she writes of Uncle Potty and Father Booty's relationship. She captures rage very well, showing how it's usually founded on something terrible from within, rather than on the acts of the target.

But as I read on, I became increasingly frustrated with the one-sided view of a country I've come to know and love. Yes, India has what she portrays, but it has so much more. There is kindness and tenderness amidst the poverty and rage. There are people with next to nothing who will give what they have to help a stranger - gave what they had to help me. Generosity and kindness exist alongside the indignities she portrays. Why not show that balance? I felt at times she was trying so hard, wanting so badly to shock the reader with her tales of vermin and vomit. Yes, that's there too. But it is not at the heart of the matter, and I think Ms Desai has missed that point.

Finally, Ms Desai should fire her editor for the many anachronisms in the book. The 1985-6 was not the time of the Macarena, baggy pants on teenage boys, or the negative use of the term "PC" (politically correct), to name a few. All that came later. Add to that, it appears that no one proofread the last third of the book. This carelessness coincided with how the prose itself progressed. It started wonderfully, and slid like a Himalayan landslide into negativity and caracature. The ending was utterly pointless, and I was left with moments of brilliance that ultimately went nowhere.
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Format: Hardcover
Writing with wit and perception, Kiran Desai creates an elegant and thoughtful study of families, the losses each member must confront alone, and the lies each tells to make memories of the past more palatable. Sai Mistry is a young girl whose education at an Indian convent school comes to an end in the mid-1980s, when she is orphaned and sent to live with her grandfather, a judge who does not want her and who offers no solace. Living in a large, decaying house, her grandfather considers himself more British than Indian, far superior to hard-working but poverty-stricken people like his cook, Nandu, whose hopes for a better life for his son are the driving force in his life.

The story of Sai, living in Kalimpong, near India's northeast border with Nepal, alternates with that of Biju, Nandu's son, an illegal immigrant trying to find work and a better life in New York. Biju, working in a series of deadend jobs, epitomizes the plight of the illegal immigrant who has no future in his own country and who endures deplorable conditions and semi-servitude working illegally in the US. As Desai explores the aspirations of Sai and Biju, the hopes and expectations of their families, and their disconnections with their roots, she also creates vivid pictures of the friends and relatives who surround them, evoking vibrant images of a broad cross-section of society and revealing the social and political history of India.

Though Sai's romance, at sixteen, with Gyan, her tutor, provides her with an emotional escape from Kalimpong, it soon becomes complicated by Gyan's involvement with the Gorkha National Liberation Federation, a Nepalese independence movement which quickly becomes violent.
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Format: Paperback
Reading The Inheritance of Loss made me uncomfortable. On several occasions I drifted off, thinking about the implications of unfettered immigration both on the quality of life for the immigrants and for people in host countries. The sheer size of India's population is staggering, and its rate of growth can only spill into other countries. From the perspective of Kiran Desai's New York immigrants, Saeed and Biju, the entire world is full of Indians struggling to survive, competing with each other and anyone else for the few available resources. One readily sympathizes with the struggles of Indians both abroad and at home, but just when liberal salve seems about to soothe the reader into thoughts of the romantic poor, we see the rich get disinherited by liberation soldiers, homeless people on the edge of starvation, and the lower class desperate for a step up. Desai's rich characters are never so sympathetic that we make the mistake of thinking they deserve their comfort and wealth, even if they haven't earned the suffering that becomes their lot. More than once I found myself making an inventory of those possessions I could lose without bitterness or decline in the quality of life. It's one thing to acknowledge your good fortune and quite another to part with it in the name of equality. We all inherit loss, however, and the pace of change in Desai's India seems a harbinger of the changes we'll feel in the US.

Luckily, the story isn't all grim. The author's eye for detail is extraordinary: small miracles appear on each page. The field of her prose is so studded with gems that one reads quite slowly.
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