Summary and book reviews of The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

The Inheritance of Loss

By Kiran Desai

The Inheritance of Loss
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2006,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2006,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

Published to extraordinary acclaim, The Inheritance of Loss heralds Kiran Desai as one of our most insightful novelists. She illuminates the pain of exile and the ambiguities of postcolonialism with a tapestry of colorful characters: an embittered old judge; Sai, his sixteen-year-old orphaned grand­daughter; a chatty cook; and the cook’s son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one miserable New York restaurant to another, trying to stay a step ahead of the INS.

In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga lives an embittered old judge who wants to retire in peace, then his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep.

When a Nepalese insurgency in the mountains threatens Sai’s new-sprung romance with her handsome tutor, their lives descend into chaos. The cook wit­nesses India’s hierarchy being overturned and discarded. The judge revisits his past and his role in Sai and Biju’s intertwining lives. A story of depth and emotion, hilarity and imagination, The Inheritance of Loss tells “of love, longing, futility, and loss that is Desai’s true territory” (O: The Oprah Magazine).

One

All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water crea­ture across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths. Briefly visible above the vapor, Kanchenjunga was a far peak whittled out of ice, gathering the last of the light, a plume of snow blown high by the storms at its summit.

Sai, sitting on the veranda, was reading an article about giant squid in an old National Geographic. Every now and then she looked up at Kanchenjunga, observed its wizard phosphorescence with a shiver. The judge sat at the far corner with his chessboard, playing against himself. Stuffed under his chair where she felt safe was Mutt the dog, snoring gently in her sleep. A single bald lightbulb dangled on a wire above. It was cold, but inside the house, it was still colder, the dark, the freeze, con­tained by stone walls several feet deep.

Here, at the back, inside the cavernous kitchen, was the cook, trying to light the damp wood. He ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. 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”?

  2. 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?

  3. 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 ...
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  • award image

    Man Booker Prize
    2006

  • award image

    National Book Critics Circle Award
    2006

Reviews

Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Donna Rifkind

Her keen appreciation of contradiction enriches the book, and, if the integrity of her narrative is less than perfect, the integrity of her ideological convictions is absolute.

New Yorker

Briskly paced and sumptuously written, the novel ponders questions of nationhood, modernity, and class, in ways both moving and revelatory.

The New York Times - Pankaj Mishra

Kiran Desai's extraordinary new novel manages to explore, with intimacy and insight, just about every contemporary international issue: globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality, fundamentalism and terrorist violence.

Library Journal

She fails to get readers to connect and identify with the characters, much less care for them. The story lines don't run together smoothly, and the switching between character narratives is very abrupt.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This stunning second novel ... alternately comical and contemplative ...Desai deftly shuttles between first and third world.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. In her second novel, Desai is even more perceptive and bewitching....Desai imaginatively dramatizes the wonders and tragedies of Himalayan life and, by extension, the fragility of peace and elusiveness of justice, albeit with her own powerful blend of tenderness and wit.

Reader Reviews
Gabrielle Renoir-Large

A Luminous, but Melancholy Book
It’s hard for me to say whether Kiran Desai’s second novel, the 2006 Man Booker winner, "The Inheritance of Loss," is panoramic or intimate. On one hand, it stretches from northern India to New York City to England, yet on the other, it ...   Read More

Priya

This book is offending towards Indians.
I am proud to be Indian and proud to be an American. The Inheritance of loss book hurt my feelings as an Indian. The author is comparing the poor class of India to the advanced countries like England and America.The author clearly lacks insight ...   Read More

srinivas

natural aspects in kirarn desai
It is real enjoyable and at the same time it an inspiration for the literary students. The thing is that she frankly pointed out so many issues in a brief manner; how the beauty of nature gives an immensely powerful feelings with intensity.

Kari Nelson

Disjointed
An interesting read, but the storylines did not flow smoothly together, making it difficult for the reader to invest in the characters.

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Beyond the Book

Conflict in the 1980s: The area around Darjeeling in North East India (map) is populated primarily by Gorkhas (also known as Gurkhas) whose ancestors founded the Kingdom of Nepal; they have long wanted an independent state.  Massive violence broke out between 1986 and 1988 but was resolved with the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council within West Bengal.  Although some still push for statehood rather than autonomy, it seems there is not the political will at this time to press on.  For example, there was a large rally in 2005 to revive the demand for a separate state but the issue did not more forward. 

Gurkhas take their name from the Hindu warrior-saint Guru Gorakhnath.  The ...

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