Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss (2006)

Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss (2006), 357p.

Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss won the Man Booker Prize as best novel in the UK and not without reason. The novel is fabulously written and deals with a theme that is dominant in and unites Western and Indian culture: cultural identity. The literary magazine Szirine, which I co-founded together with Charlene Caprio and James Shivers, deals extensively with the importance of culture in a world where individuals are increasingly separated from their traditional ethnical bounds. The diffusion of cultural identity and the transformation from a closed society to an open society, from societies where individuals depent on the community to societies where communities depend on individuals, is not only creating new dreams and hopes but also confrontations with old values that need to be overcome in order to succesfully integrate in modern times.

Desai’s antagonists deal not only with the diffusions of our time, but also with the diffusion of history and the present, with regional, national and internation identities, with the diffusion of classes, and with inidividual and social identities. Although the plot of The Inheritance of Loss is thin, the diversity of the characters is close to realistic.

“This way of leaving your family for work had condemned them over several generations to have their hearts always in other places, their minds thinking about people elsewhere […]”

The inflatedly high expectations and hope that many immigrants to the west cherish will often not be fulfilled without the loss and the replacement of an old lack of opportunities to a new dependency. The unskilled, lower classes in Third World cultures will barely be able to rid the sense of despair when they immigrate to the West. Yet, for generations people without opportunities to fulfill their ambitions, to improve their lives, people have travelled to their Eldorado, only to discover that there’s no gain without pain, and that new certainties are never found without the loss of old certainties.

At the same time Desai plays cleverly with the false ideals of all people and all times. Where the ideals of the judge represent his faith in British civilization finds only disillusionment, his grand-daughter Sai and her tutor recognize their loss in love, the ideals order of a Ghorkaland for he Gorkhas end in social chaos and the law is never uphold without injustice, the cook and his son are troubled and no other character is Desai’s novel goes without a sense of their own loss that is inherent to Desai’s interpretation of the world.

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