The Inheritance of Loss – Book Review

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)
  • Genre: Fiction
  • ISBN: 0802165052


10 thoughts on “The Inheritance of Loss – Book Review

  1. Hi Elviza,

    Have you read the winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, The Gathering, by Anne Enright?

    I’d like to hear your review.

    Btw, i love your book reviews. Have you considered doing it professionaly??

    Dear Serendipity,

    Thanks for reading, the pleasure is all mine. No, I haven’t bought The Gathering. I sighted the book a while ago at MPH but decided against buying it. I ll be sure to get hold of the book and write the review for you.

    I think a famous author said this, “write for free until offered to be paid”. Cant recall who though…

  2. Elviza – Interesting review. I’ve not read Desai myself. I like short sentences. Like Hemmingway. I also go for snakingly long ones like Marquez where one sentence fills up an entire paragraph so that there’s a dream-like quality in the writing. Essentially, with economy of words, every word must count, there are no redundant words whether in a short of long sentence. So economy of words applies to whatever style you prefer.

    TH – I stand corrected. Thanks for your input which is always invaluable to me.

  3. Elviza
    You are a necessary evil. I’m economy with words here. Well done and thank you.

    Hello Sir,

    Have you started your blog already? 🙂

  4. Mish.. can I make a request please? Please DO the Khaled Hosseini book review next. Heard so much hype about howhe labored over every word, every sentence. Been meaning to pick up his book too, whenever I pass Changi. Yes, DO buy the book!

    Got his first book over the weekend. Impossible to put down. Be right back with a review.

  5. Hi, i’ve been a silent reader of ur blog for quite some time. Hope you don’t mind me posting alink to your blog on mine.
    (nothing is there yet, i’ve just moved out of Friendster blog into Blogger today..)

    and dilligent observation of the book, i have yet to read it. I’m taking pointers for my own writing, been using long sentences and lotsa commas too.. hehe

    Dear Scaramouche,

    Thank you for reading me and of course I dont mind being linked to your new blog. Good luck with that!

    Oh dont take it seriously whatever I wrote in here, it is just my personal view. Reading (I am repeating myself here) is a personal journey dearest…

  6. No blog yet .. am still grappling.

    there is no better time than now. Taureans are the world’s greatest procrastinator but once on the move, there is no stopping them. 🙂

  7. As to how the other name appears, demi Allah I didn’t type it. It’s already there when I submitted my Feb 22 comment. But now, it’s back to the usual name. Perhaps you can shed a light … Oh I’m so IT-blur. My not-so-eduacted guess is it depends on the PC/laptop that I use. Don’t laugh like an intoxicated cow, OK.



    Seriously, that person used your ID – thats why the comment went throught moderation panel without me approving it; I have pre-approved you and your usual portal. Unless you use some other PC elsewhere in the world, then I have to approve it again. Hmmmm, this is really strange.

    Take it with a pinch of salt in the sense that someone adores you so much he/she stole your identity. Just like what was said in Sex & the City, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

  8. But that person is ME. Yes, you’re a very good gatekeeper, letting us know in advance what is a good/dismal read. I’m quite forgetful but how do you know I’m a Taurean. Did I mention that in any blog?

    Have you seen Jane in Coupling …doesn’t she resemble the author?

    Hmmmmmm, I think I just remembered… but you are a taurean right?

  9. owh, desai is just like her mother..long winded.. i remember being forced to read a village by the sea when i was in college.. i would rather read niechtze or hagel ..well mebbe i m being prejudiced here

    Dear Puteri Nad,

    I have never read the senior Desai myself. Kiran must have gotten some of the talents from her mother dont you think?

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