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The Inheritance of Loss.


In this illuminating and luminous novel, Kiran Desai assumes the literary baton from her mother, novelist Anita Desai. Kiran won the 2006 Man Booker Prize.

Set in the late 20th century at the foothills of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas, and in New York, this evocative novel intersperses, in measured bursts of humour and compassion, what happens to an orphan girl, Sai, as she comes of age. The 16-year-old Sai is sent from her convent school to live with her anglophile grandfather, who has shut himself off from all human contact, giving all his love to his dog, Mutt. He has no time for Sai, who must rely on others for emotional fulfillment and soon falls in love with her Nepali tutor, Gyan.

Globalization, fundamentalism and sectarian and terrorist violence unravel Sai's passion for Gyan. Her adolescent passion is intertwined with a sense of danger and tinged with both wonder and darkness. Sai learns that class envy and jealousy always trump love.

Desai acknowledges the fragile yet complex nature of everyday living, deftly showing how the ties that bind a community can unravel instantly. When Nepalese insurgents take over the town, the aftermath creates a chaos that pits lovers against each other. Desai's portrayal of all the imaginary differences humans extol is devastating and insightful.

Lest the Western reader feel gleeful about the Third World maelstrom, Desai offers a parallel story of Biju, an illegal immigrant whose bewildering and humiliating journey in the underbelly of New York's kitchens gives an unflattering view of the First World. This portrayal will not cheer you up, but there is no denying that Desai conjures a compelling and memorable story. Desai's elegiac prose makes for a compelling read.

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Author:D'Souza, Irene
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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