The Inheritance of Loss
The Inheritance of Loss is the first novel I am reading written by Kiran Desai. It has garnered a lot of praise and awards since its release. The book is set during the times of the Gorkhaland movement in India. The main narrators of the story are Sai, an orphan living with her maternal grandfather in Kalimpong, and Biju who is living in the United States of America illegally and needs to keep on moving.
The story is set in the mid-1980s in India. Sai, an orphaned teenager is living with her retired judge grandfather, their cook, and a dog in the hill station of Kalimpong. The first chapter of the novel starts off grim which I didn’t expect. It is after this incidence that the narration takes us back to how this came to be.
Sai has a different, more liberal sort of a world view compared to her grandfather. Their relationship is hard to describe; they care about each other but are thrust together due to the circumstances so, they maintain a certain distance. Sai falls for her tutor Gyan, who is Nepalese and for a while everything is normal. Gyan is provoked by some insurgents against Sai and her family.
Biju is the cook’s son who has moved to the United States of America for a better life. He is an illegal immigrant, who constantly fears being found out and has to be vigilant and move on quickly. He works hard, taking up any available job as he tries to make a better life for himself but it’s not working out as he hoped. At times, he wishes that maybe he should just go back to India. The judge, Sai’s grandfather, is Oxford-educated. There are parallels between the judge’s experience abroad and those of Biju’s. This part of the story is hard to read. It has a sense of alienation and loss.
There is a part of the story where everything is pretty normal especially in Sai’s life. She is falling in love with Gyan, they are building a relationship and they are blissfully unaware of the sociopolitical climate around them. Ignorance is bliss until it isn’t. Gyan starts hanging around people who provoke him which leads to problems with Sai. Towards the end, the story comes back to the first chapter when we realize that Gyan played a part in the attack on Sai’s house. The story comes to full circle.
Overall, the plot and the characters keep you hooked. The setting, the atmosphere, and the historical context make this an interesting read. It starts off a little slow. It took me some time to get used to the narration and understand the character backstories then the pace picks up. The story gives us an insight into the lives of Indians living abroad through Biju, who imagine all flowery things but the reality can be quite different. Sai’s story shows us the life of a middle-class family caught in turbulent times and having to suffer because of it.
I liked reading the book. I read a lot of reviews before I read this book and went into it with too many expectations. This is the reason I feel a little underwhelmed by this novel. The narration, descriptions, characters, and setting are intriguing but I wasn’t floored by it. Read this novel without any expectations and you’ll end up enjoying it more.
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