Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Inheritance of Loss

Title: The Inheritance of Loss
Author: Kiran Desai
Year: 2006
Pages: 357pgs Rating: B-
Book From: Public library

I have been going through a bit of a reading slump lately, which is why things have been quiet on the blog front. Unfortunately, this book is one of the reasons for that slump. It took me ages to finish reading.

The Inheritance of Loss is set mainly in 1980's India, in the state of West Bengal. With stunning imagery, Desai describes a group of people who, while dwelling in their own personal issues, get caught up in the political turmoil of the region. There is the retired judge, a grumpy man who only seems to have affection of his dog; Sai, the granddaughter who comes to live in the judge's crumbling home after she is killed; Gyan, her tutor and love; and Biju, the son of the cook who makes a go at living illegally in America.

Desai is a beautiful writer, her words jump off the page at you. Yet, somehow, everytime I put the book down, the story quickly became forgettable. After finishing the book, I still don't feel as if I know the characters all that well. I almost felt as if the characters themselves were acting out some part in a play, not their true selves. Their innate psyche remained hidden to me. I honestly can't think of another book I've read that evoked such strong polarities: beautifully written, yet utterly boring (although Saul Bellow's Herzog does come to mind). However, the book did spur some personal research about a part of India I thought I knew a little bit about, and realized I didn't. India is such a large and complex country, I am continually finding new aspects of it. I would love to go back and visit some day, as I have only been to the Tamil Nadu region. I also feel her commentary on post-colonialism was spot on.

On post-colonialism:
"I won't last the month," said Lola. "Almost through," she thumped Bend in the River, "uphill task--"
"Superb writer," said Noni. "First-class. One of the best books I've ever read."
"Oh, I don't know," Lola said, "I think he's strange. Stuck in the past...he has not progressed. Colonial neurosis, he's never freed himself from it. Quite a different thing now. In fact," she said, "chicken tikka masala has replaced fish and chips as the number one take-out in Britain. It was just reported in the Indian Express."

"These white people!" said Achootan, a fellow dishwasher, to Biju in the kitchen. "Sh*t! But at least this country is better than England," he said. "At least they have some hypocrisy here. They believe they are good people and you get some relief. There they shout at you openly in the street, 'Go back to where you came from.'" He had spent eight years in Canterbury, and he had responded by shouting a line Bijue was to hear many times over, for he repeated it several times a week: "Your father came to my country and took my bread and now I have to come to your country to get my bread back."

On prejudice:
This habit of hate had accompanied Biju, and he found that he possessed an awe of white people, who arguably had done India great harm, and a lack of generosity regarding almost everyone else, who had never done a single harmful thing to India.

The first person to climb Mt Everest (and again, commentary on colonialism):
Tenzing was certainly first, or else he was made to wait with the bags so Hilary could take the first step on behalf of that colonial enterprise of sticking your flag on what was not yours...Sherpas went up and down, ten times, fifteen times in some cases, without glory, without claim of ownership, adn there were those who said it was sacred adn shouldn' be sullied at all.


3M said...

I just nominated you for The Thinking Blogger Award!

Nyssaneala said...

Thanks!! What a nice welcome back from my mini-unannounced-hiatus. :)