Thursday, June 10, 2010

Literary Bite: The Inheritance of Loss

I love the style of this book. Sometimes my eye subconsciously jumps back to re-read particularly good sentences, just because they’re so interestingly written that they’re fun to read!

The Inheritance of Loss is Kirin Desai’s second novel. It’s strength lies in the power of her writing style, rather than the story itself. She uses prose to incite varying emotions at once. (For example, to describe a park in India she writes, "Raw sewage was being used to water a patch of grass that was lush and stinking, grinning brilliantly in the dusk." )

Not that the story isn’t interesting. Desai presents parallel loosely connected stories: a judge and his granddaughter in northern India, the grandaughter’s love affair with her tutor, their servant, their servant’s son living illegally in New York City. The narrative jumps from place to place and time to time, so if you don’t pay attention, you may get lost. But even when you’re slightly lost, Desai’s writing eventually finds you and brings you back. No matter what, this book is enjoyable!

But as so often happens in a split narrative, I found myself more interested in some aspects than others. I loved reading about the Biju (the servant’s son) in America, and about the Judge’s youth. I wish there was more of both those story lines. It felt like the “main character” was Sai (the granddaughter), but her story was the least interesting to me.

But maybe Desai’s choices of what to include and how to include it were related to her themes. The book is about people lost in the world, lost in time, trying to find a way to fit in. For example, the Indian immigrants in America  are not Indian anymore, but neither are they American. The Judge should be purely Indian, but he despises his own culture and wishes her were British. Sai is all kinds of confused, after being raised by English nuns, but then falling in love with a young Nepalese Gurkha revolutionary.

So maybe we, as readers, aren’t supposed to know where we stand all the time…

The characters all have in common their sense of insecurity in a globalizing world, their self-hatred, and their common struggle to find themselves. This book won the Man Booker Prize, so I'm clearly not alone in saying that The Inheritance of Loss is worth your time. (Has anyone read Desai's first book, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard?)

Read the NY Times Book Review that focuses on the East/West, poor/rich contrasts.

And this review that’s more about the characters.

This review focuses on The Inheritance of Loss as "immigrant literature."

Listen to Kiran Desai on NPR.

And watch an interview with her on YouTube.