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The Inheritance of Loss
The Inheritance of Loss is the second novel by Indian author Kiran Desai. It was first published in 2006. It won a number of awards, including the Man Booker Prize for that year, the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award in 2007, and the 2006 Vodafone Crossword Book Award.
It was written over a period of seven years after her first book, the critically acclaimed Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard. Among its main themes are migration, living between two worlds, and between past and present.
The story is centered on two main characters: Biju and Sai. Biju is an undocumented Indian immigrant living in the United States, son of a cook who works for Sai's grandfather. Sai is a girl living in mountainous Kalimpong with her maternal grandfather Jemubhai, the cook and a dog named Mutt. Desai switches the narration between both points of view. The action of the novel takes place in 1986.
The novel follows the journey of Biju, an undocumented immigrant in the US who is trying to make a new life; and Sai, an Anglicised Indian girl living with her grandfather in India. The novel shows the internal conflicts in India between groups, whilst showing a conflict between past and present. There is the rejection and yet awe of the English way of life, the opportunities for money in the US, and the squalor of living in India. Many leading Indians were considered to be becoming too English and having forgotten the traditional ways of Indian life, shown through the character of the grandfather, the retired Judge.
The major theme running throughout is one closely related to colonialism and the effects of post-colonialism: the loss of identity and the way it travels through generations as a sense of loss. Individuals within the text show snobbery at those who embody the Indian way of life and vice versa, with characters displaying an anger at the English Indians who have lost their traditions.
The Gorkhaland movement is used as a historic backdrop of the novel.
The retired judge Jemubhai Patel is a man disgusted at Indian ways and customs, so much so, that he eats chapatis with a knife and fork, hates all Indians including his father whom he breaks ties with and wife who he abandons at his father's place after torturing her, and is never accepted by the British in spite of his education and adopted mannerisms.
Natasha Walter found it a "grim" novel, highlighting "how individuals are always failing to communicate". The Observer found some excellent comic set-pieces amid the grimness. The New York Times claimed Desai "manages to explore, with intimacy and insight, just about every contemporary international issue: globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality, fundamentalism and terrorist violence."