Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss, 2006.

This novel is the first time I've read Desai. I heard of Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, but I haven't picked it up. In fact, I don't know what prompted me to pick up The Inheritance of Loss. Some of my friends make it a habit to read the Booker winners (and nominees), but it's never been one of my habits.

It's an odd book. There are gorgeous moments of lyrical prose, but the book feels almost too composed. It begins in medias res; its plot lines are slight and ephemeral. Ostensibly, the story revolves around Sai, who goes to live with her grandfather when her parents are killed. In India, near Nepal, Sai, her grandfather, and the cook have the shape of their lives changed dramatically as the Gorkha National Liberation Front begins to push for a separate Gorkha state. Interwoven into this context is the story of the cook's son, an illegal immigrant in New York City. There are major plot points: Sai falls in love with her maths tutor, who falls in with the GNLF. The lives of their neighbours are shifted and turned upside down by the GNLF. We see the history of the grandfather, as he studies at Cambridge, and returns to be a member of the Indian Civil Service as a judge. We see his own tortured marriage. To my reading, though, the story is less important than the atmosphere, and the books that Desai shows Sai and Noni and Lola (two neighbours) reading themselves point to the greater importance of milieu than of plot. It is a story of a particular place at a particular time, and how people living their lives are swept up by, or have their lives changed by, the events going on around them that they themselves might prefer to have remain peripheral.

It's an intriguing book, and a quick read. I'm certainly glad I picked it up. It's not, though, one I think I'll return to.

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