Monday, August 27, 2007

The Inheritance of Loss

The Inheritance of Loss is a gorgeous book by Kiran Desai. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2006 seems to be a favorite of book groups everywhere - it's complete with one of those annoying "reading group guides" in the back that I never read. ("Huh, what are some of the motifs?")

Desai's language and characterization is stunningly beautiful. It's a challenging read for me, due to the political aspect, which I'm sorry to say I was largely unfamiliar with, but, the text was so beautiful that at times I just gave myself over to the language. Note to self: try reading just one book at a time...

The story centers largely around an Indian judge, who was educated in Britain, and his charge, Sai. The judge is a hateful and embittered man, unable to feel a part of either British or Indian culture. Sai is a lovely young woman who falls in love with her Nepali tutor. Their long-time, nameless cook is always viewed as nothing more than a servant. The cook sends his son to America in hopes that he will find success there. About half of the book is devoted to the son's disappointments in NY, his movement from one restaurant to another, his only acquaintances other immigrant workers that work in the restaurants - all suffering from the same problems - the expectations of their families, the stress of making enough money, finding a place to live on very little wages, requests from family to help other immigrants when he can barely support himself.

Two of my favorite characters are Loa and Noni, wealthy sisters who find themselves unable to continue living carefree in India:
It did matter, buying tinned ham roll in a rice and dal country; it did matter to live in a big house and sit beside a heater in the evening, even one that sparked and shocked; it did matter to fly to London and to return with chocolates filled with kirsch; it did matter that others could not. They had pretended it didn't, or had nothing to do with them, ad suddenly it had everything to do with them. The wealth that seemed to protect them like a blanket was the very thing that left them exposed. They, amid extreme poverty, were baldly richer, and the statistics of difference were being broadcast over loudspeakers, written loudly across the walls. The anger they had solidified into slogans and guns, and it turned out that they, they, Lola and Noni, were the unlucky ones wouldn't slip through, who would pay the dept that should be shared with others over many generations.

The book reminded me quite a bit of Nicole Krauss's History of Love, another book about inter-cultural and cross-continental lives. Or, maybe it's just the title structure. I thought, if I ever finish my novel, I'll follow their lead and call it The Turpitude of Forgetfulness.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I *just*, like an hour ago, walked by my bookshelf and caught a glimpse of Desai's book and thought, "gosh, I wish I had enjoyed that book more..." I didn't get very far with it before throwing in the towel. I couldn't relate to the characters or the setting. I think I'll have to try again!

K, do you have a mole in my house?