Desai’s Inheritance

Seven years after Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai has finally returned with a new novel, The Inheritance of Loss. Pankaj Mishra reviews it on the front page of the NYT Book Review and finds it “extraordinary” and “the best kind of post-9/11 novel.”

“The Inheritance of Loss” opens with a teenage Indian girl, an orphan called Sai, living with her Cambridge-educated Anglophile grandfather, a retired judge, in the town of Kalimpong on the Indian side of the Himalayas. Sai is romantically involved with her math tutor, Gyan, the descendant of a Nepali Gurkha mercenary, but he eventually recoils from her obvious privilege and falls in with a group of ethnic Nepalese insurgents. In a parallel narrative, we are shown the life of Biju, the son of Sai’s grandfather’s cook, who belongs to the “shadow class” of illegal immigrants in New York and spends much of his time dodging the authorities, moving from one ill-paid job to another.

What binds these seemingly disparate characters is a shared historical legacy and a common experience of impotence and humiliation. “Certain moves made long ago had produced all of them,” Desai writes, referring to centuries of subjection by the economic and cultural power of the West. But the beginnings of an apparently leveled field in a late-20th-century global economy serve merely to scratch those wounds rather than heal them.

Marjorie Kehe also praises the novel in the Christian Science Monitor, giving it high marks in particular for its ending, which “treats the heart to one last moment of wild, comic joy – even as it satisfies the head by refusing to relinquish the dark reality that is the life of its characters.” It sounds like this new book will have been worth the long wait.