Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The Inheritance of Loss
is preceded by a poem by Jorge Luis Borges. Given what you know of
Borges, why do you think Kiran Desai chose his work as an epigraph? Who
are the ambitious . . . the loftily covetous multitude? Why are they
worthy of tomorrow? Who is I?
The first evening that
Sai was at Cho Oyu, she had a fearful feeling of having entered a
space so big it reached both backward and forward (p. 34). Discuss
this observation. Could this be a description of the novel itself?
Discuss the terms globalization and colonialism.
What does it mean to introduce an element of the West into a country
that is not of the West, a person from a poor nation into a wealthy
one? What are examples of this in the novel? Discuss them in political
and economic terms. How are Noni and Lola stand-ins for the middle
class the world over? See page 242.
Why did the judge lead such a solitary life in England? The judge returned to India
a changed man. He envied the English. He loathed Indians. He worked at
being English with the passion of hatred and for what he would become,
he would be despised by absolutely everyone, English and Indians, both
(p. 119). Discuss the effect that the prejudice and rejection he
experienced in England had on the judge for the rest of his life.
Bose was the judges only friend in England.
A look of recognition had passed between them at first sight, but also
the assurance that they wouldnt reveal one anothers secrets, not even
to each other (p. 118). Compare and contrast the two men. Who was the
optimist? How did Bose help the judge when they were in England? When
they met again, thirty-three years later, Bose had changed. How?
Why did he want to see the judge again?
Nimi attended a political rally unknowingly. Who took her to the rally?
Explain why the judge was enraged at this. After independence, he found
himself on the wrong side of history. What was happening politically in
India at this time? What was the Congress Party?
The judges marriage to Nimi was destined to fail. Did the judge ever
have any tender feelings for his wife? Why and how did her family pay
for him to go to school in England?
What finally happened to Nimi? What did the judge choose to believe
about it? And finally, did the judge have regrets that he abandoned his
family for the sake of false ideals (p. 308)?
judges feelings for Sai, who was perhaps the only miracle fate had
thrown his way (p. 210). The cook treated Sai like a daughter. Discuss
Discuss the role that Mutt played in the judges life.
Sais parents left her at St. Augustines Convent, and she
never saw them again. Why were they in the Soviet Union? How does their
journey to and years in another country parallel the stories of Biju and
the judge? How do Indias allegiances to other countries prompt this kind
Describe Noni, who was Sais first tutor. What advice did Noni give
Sai? Why? See page 69.
Compare Gyans and Sais homes. Gyans home is modernity proffered in
its meanest form, brand-new one day, in ruin the next (p. 256) and
Sais home had been a grand adventure for a Scotsman, but is now
infested with spiders and termites, and the walls sail out from the
humidity (p. 7). How do their homes illustrate the differences between
Compare Gyan and the judge. Both were the chosen sons
of the family; much was sacrificed for their success and much expected
of them. They are both lonely and feel that they dont fit in anywhere.
If they are so similar, why dont they get along? Do you think they
would raise their sons the way they had been raised?
14. How is
it that the judges father realized that the class system in India
would prevent his son from realizing his potential, but that
colonialism offered a chink in that wall? Why does the judge not work
in his own province once he returns to India?
What are the different types of immigration that take place in the
novel? There is Biju, Saeed Saeed, the judge, Sais mother and father,
Father Booty and Uncle Potty, the Tibetan monks, the workers in the
New York restaurants, and all the people in the Calcutta airport when
Biju arrives back home (chapter 48). What does all this immigration mean?
Was Gyan a strong person? How did he become involved with a procession coming panting up Mintri Road
led by young men holding their kukris aloft and shouting, Jai Gorkha
(p. 156)? Gyan was not totally convinced at the rally. Later at
Ex-Army Thapas Canteen fired by alcohol (p. 160), what decision did
Gyan reach? Explain his reasons. What did Gyan think about his father?
The next day Gyan went to Cho Oyu. What had changed? He returned to the canteen after leaving Cho Oyu.
Discuss his reasons for betraying Sai. You hate me, said Sai, as if
she read his thoughts, for big reasons, that have nothing to do with
me (p. 260). Discuss why Gyan rejected Sai.
Discuss the unrest, betrayals, and eventual violence that separate Gyan and Sai.
How are their troubles, and those of the cook, the judge, Father Booty,
and Lola and Noni, related to problems of statehood and old hatreds
that will not die? Does Nonis statement, Very unskilled at drawing
borders, those bloody Brits, (p. 129) fully explain the troubles?
Bijus time in New York City is not what he had expected. How do the
earlier immigrants treat him? How do the class differences in India translate
into class differences in the United States, where there were supposed to be
none? Saeed Saeed is a success in America:
He relished the whole game, the way the country flexed his wits and
rewarded him; he charmed it, cajoled it, cheated it, felt great
tenderness and loyalty toward it. . . . It was an old-fashioned
romance (p. 79). Why is he so successful, and Biju is not?
Most of the examples of Americans and other tourists in India are
extremely unflattering (pp. 197, 201, 237, 264). Most of the Indians
in America are also not impressive, such as the students to whom Biju delivers
food (pp. 4851) and the businesspeople who order steak in the
restaurant in the financial district (p. 135). How do they judge
themselves? How does Biju judge them?
How did the cook get
his job with the judge? Did the cook accept his position in society?
Did he fulfill his responsibilities despite the judges treatment? Why
did the cook embellish the stories he told about the judge?
Why did the cook want his son, Biju, to go to America?
Discuss Bijus experiences there. How did he feel about the possibility
that he might never see his father again? Why did Biju return to India?
Describe how he felt when he stepped out of the airport.
Did Sai mature or change over the months of both personal and political
turmoil? The simplicity of what she had been taught wouldnt hold.
Never again could she think there was but one narrative and that
narrative belonged only to herself (p. 323). Explain what she means by
this statement. Will Sai leave Cho Oyu?
The cook is not referred to by name until the next to last page of the novel. Why?
Which of the characters achieved, in Gyans words, a life of meaning and pride (p. 260)?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Grove Press.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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