Despite winning the Man Booker Price’s award in 2006, despite nailing a fiction award from National Book Critics Circle in 2007 and rave reviews from literary critics around the globe: Kiran Desai’s novel, The Inheritance of Loss, fails to move me.
The author penned her first book, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, in 1998. Desai currently divides her time between India and the United States. She is a daughter of Anita Desai, a noted author herself.
The Inheritance of Loss lags in speed and its subplots are too chaotic; resulting in me losing in the book after the seventh chapter. The over-poetic nature of Ms. Desai’s style, in my humble opinion, is a little “overboard” to enable her readers to appreciate her passion in poetry.
Desai arouses my curiosity with her outstanding first few chapters; leading me into believing that I will not be able to put the book down. First impression can be deceptive. But as the story unfolds and as the novelist interweaves the story line with too many subplots, one simply gets lost from the main plot of the novel.
Desai writes long sentences which I find difficult to grapple with. Personally, I am of the view that the author “abuses” the use of comma in this book. I think she should apply dashes and semi colon more often; these two are the luxuries in punctuation often use by creative writers. Short and powerful sentences can make a huge difference in a book – especially when the genre is fiction. I may be bias here because I love John Steinbeck’s writing in its simplicity. Tunku Halim also shares his view on short sentences to get a point across in his post “The Economy of Words“.
On a positive note, Desai is a mistress of details. The story is set against a background of a beautiful village at the foot of the Himalaya. The author asserts Indian values – or lack thereof – in her characters denoting her readers with Indian’s lifestyle and tradition.
The book has a lot of history anecdotes which has been painstakingly researched by Desai. She captures her reader’s attention with multiculturalism and her definition of the different forms of love, giving an edge to the book compared to other fictions in the market.
The story evolves around the lives of the people living in an old bungalow in Kalimpong. Western-educated Jemubhai Popatlal is an embittered and vengeful Indian judge, who thinks that the Indians are a despicable lot despite being Indian himself. One day, he found his granddaughter at the doorstep of his house after her mother died. He grudgingly accepts responsibility for his granddaughter, Sai, but treats her with disdain. The only creature he loves is his dog which he treats like a princess; he treats others like lepers. A man who thinks the world of himself, he believes he is above mere mortals.
The judge lives with his devoted cook, who takes care of him and the household. The cook has a son, Biju, who is living as an illegal immigrant in the US. The life of Biju is the main subplot of the story as the author struggles to make the connection between the life of the son and his father, the cook, in Kalimpong. Sai falls in love with her tutor, Gyan, during the Nepalese insurgency.
Strangely, I find reading about Biju’s difficult life in the States – his fight to avoid captures by the authorities and the ill-treatment by his employer – more captivating than the main plot.
The author took seven years to complete this books which explains the myriad of plots and details in the book. The novel demands your absolute attention otherwise you will loose focus in no time. You will also find yourself longing for the words “the end” just to reach the long-awaited conclusion of the story.
A dismal read.
Local Price: RM34.00 (MPH)
Publisher: Grove Press (357 pages)