The Inheritance of Loss: Book Review by Asha Seth

#MyThoughts: In my opinion, some books aren’t mere books. They are secret holders, stubborn secret holders that hate to divulge anything until unless forced to. ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ gave me a similar feeling.

It was the year 2014. I was staying in Bangalore then. An early morning walk on the streets of Indira Nagar is something I most enjoyed back then. And just like that, I found a street-side bookseller. Unknown and unaware of its reputation as a Man Booker Prize Winner, I picked up ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ by Kiran Desai merely because alike this year I was reading Indian fiction back in 2014, and well, also because it was a cheap buy.

I had started reading it on the way back from the walk but in just a few pages, I had lost the story. Or maybe there wasn’t one to begin with. In any case, disinterested and tad frustrated, I stowed it away then, only to pick it up now.

Here’s the review.

The Inheritance of Loss
Image Credit: Goodreads

The ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ digs around the lives of 5 characters:

  1. Jemubhai Patel, retired chief justice
  2. Sai, his orphaned granddaughter
  3. The judge’s cook
  4. Biju, the cook’s son
  5. Gyan, Sai’s love interest and her math tutor

The story is set in 1980’s Kalimpong, near Darjeeling in north-east India. The retired judge stays atop a crumbling hill facing Mount Kanchanjunga, with the cook and a dog named Mutt. They live quite a solitary, monotonous life until Sai drops at their doorstep. The cook does his best to shower love and attention on the orphaned little girl that she craves from her grandfather.

The judge appoints Gyan as Sai’s math tutor and soon enough they are involved in a discreet love affair. Gyan, later, joins the Nepali insurgents and abandons Sai. Biju, the cook’s son, illegally manages a work visa for the US, and is striving in rather dull and grim restaurants trying to make a living in the West. In a growing state of unrest and frenzy back in his homeland, Biju decides to come back to his father. On his way back, he is mugged by the Nepali gorkhas, right down to his underpants, and is forced to go home barefoot.

In the 380 odd pages, the novel spans through decades of judge’s life intertwined with those of Sai, the cook and in turn his son, Biju. The book breathes through two parts and constantly flits between the trudging lives of characters in India and that in the US. Their experiences, struggles, and the consistent feeling of not belonging neither here not there, fill in for the sentimental lack.

Although, Ms Desai’s language and style is quite impeccable, too many layers of incidents overlapped with a whole bunch of weak characters does not really pay off the reader’s craving for a substantial plot. In fact, you are left grappling for a plot that doesn’t even exist. The rising post-colonialism restlessness leads one to hope for a concrete end to the haywire, crisscross pattern of the plot, but alas!

This in many ways is a style mishmash alike Jhumpa Lahiri and V S Naipaul in the immigrant fiction genre who’ve managed to weave exuberant nostalgic tales, finding meaning to existence, through their characters, in a country their own and one not. And that is quite expected, as even Ms Desai is an Indian living in the United States.

As for ‘The Inheritance of Loss’, it fails to strike a chord. The epic secret or sense held amidst its pages was lost on me. I hate to admit, I struggled in vain. So I may give it another go, to break through the messy construct, to finally arrive at the great story the book’s praised for. But not any time soon.

If you happen to read ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ or have already read it, do share your thoughts below.

©The Musing Quill