Review On The Inheritance Of Loss English Literature Essay

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As might be expected from the rich input of her cultural background, Kiran Desai, daughter of the author Anita Desai is a born story-teller. Her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998), is a fresh look at life in the sleepy provincial town of Shahkot in India. At 35 years old, Desai is the youngest woman ever to win the prize and was already highly acclaimed in literary circles for her first novel 'Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard' which won a Betty Trask award [2] when it was published in 1998. She spent eight years writing her second novel "The Inheritance of Loss" [3] . Much has been made of the parallels between the book and Desai's family history but it's not an autobiography. Desai herself has said that in places it's about experiences within her family - such as the experience of immigration and going back to India.

Kiran Desai's second novel The Inheritance of Loss can be viewed as a Diasporic [4] novel. The various themes which are intertwined in the novel are globalization, multiculturalism, insurgency, poverty, isolation and issues related to loss of identity. The issues and conflicts mentioned in the novel are portrayed in a subtle and intriguing manner through the central characters.

The theme of Diaspora in the world of literature describes loss of identity and isolation witnessed by the Indian writers who are settled abroad. Writers like Salman Rushdie [5] , Vikram Seth [6] and Kiran Desai have given insight into what it means to travel between the West and the East.

The novel is set in modern day India, and the story is narrated to depict the collapse of established order due to insurgency. In her novel, Desai portrays excellently the issues of poverty and globalization not being an easy solution for problems of trapped social middle classes.

The story revolves around the inhabitants of a town in the north-eastern Himalayas, an embittered old judge, his granddaughter Sai, his cook and their rich array of relatives, friends and acquaintances and the effects on the lives of these people brought about by a Nepalese uprising. Running parallel with the story set in India we also follow the vicissitudes of the cook's son Biju as he struggles to realise the American Dream as an immigrant in New York.

Like its predecessor, this book abounds in rich, sensual descriptions. These can be sublimely beautiful, such as in the images of the flourishing of nature at the local convent in spring: 'Huge, spread-open Easter lilies were sticky with spilling antlers; insects chased each other madly through the sky, zip zip; and amorous butterflies, cucumber green, tumbled past the jeep windows into the deep marine valleys.' They can also be horrific, such as in descriptions of the protest march: 'One jawan was knifed to death, the arms of another were chopped off, a third was stabbed, and the heads of policemen came up on stakes before the station across from the bench under the plum tree, where the towns people had rested themselves in more peaceful times and the cook sometimes read his letters. A beheaded body ran briefly down the street, blood fountaining from the neck ...' [7] 

The Inheritance of Loss is much more ambitious than Hullabaloo in its spatial breadth and emotional depth. It takes on huge subjects such as morality and justice, globalisation, racial, social and economic inequality, fundamentalism and alienation. It takes its reader on a see-saw of negative emotions. There is pathos - which often goes hand in hand with revulsion - for example in the description of the judge's adoration of his dog Mutt, the disappearance of which rocks his whole existence, set against his cruelty to his young wife. There is frequent outrage - at the deprivation and poverty in which many of the characters live, including the cook's son in America; and there is humiliation, for example in the treatment of Sai by her lover-turned-rebel, or Lola, who tries to stand up to the Nepalese bullies.

Against these strong emotions however, Desai expertly injects doses of comedy and buffoon-like figures. One of these is Biju's winsome friend Saeed, an African (Biju 'hated all black people but liked Saeed'), with a slyer and much more happy go lucky attitude to life. Whereas Biju finds it difficult to have a conversation even with the Indian girls to whom he delivers a take away meal, Saeed 'had many girls':

'"Oh myee God!! he said. Oh myee Gaaaawd! She keep calling me and calling me," he clutched at head, "aaaiii...I don't know what to do!!"... "It's those dreadlocks, cut them off and the girls will go."'

'"But I don't want them to go!"' [8] 

Much of the comedy also arises from the Indian mis or over-use of the English language. '"Result equivocal" the young Judge wrote home to India on completing his university examinations in Britain. "What", asked everyone "does that mean?" It sounded as if there was a problem, because "un" words were negative words, those basically competent in the English agreed. But then (his father) consulted the assistant magistrate and they exploded with joy …."'

Bose, the Judge's friend from his university days is a wonderfully optimistic but pompous individual, made all the more ridiculous by his over-use of British idioms - 'Cheeri-o, right-o, tickety boo, simply smashing, chin-chin, no siree, how's that, bottom's up, I say!' [9] 

An original and modern aspect of Desai's style is the almost poet-like use she makes of different print forms on the page: she uses italics for foreign words as if to emphasize their exoticness and untranslatability and capitals for emphasis when someone is angry, expressing surprise or disbelief (a natural development of the netiquette that to write in capitals is like shouting).

Published to extraordinary acclaim, The Inheritance of Loss heralds Kiran Desai as one of our most insightful novelists. She illuminates the pain of exile and the ambiguities of postcolonialism with a tapestry of colorful characters: an embittered old judge; Sai, his sixteen-year-old orphaned granddaughter; a chatty cook; and the cook's son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one place to another in miserable living conditions.

The novel is set partly in India and partly in the USA. Desai describes it as a book that "tries to capture what it means to live between East and West and what it means to be an immigrant," and goes on to say that it also explores at a deeper level, "what happens when a Western element is introduced into a country that is not of the West" - which happened during the British colonial days in India, and is happening again "with India's new relationship with the States." Her third aim was to write about, "What happens when you take people from a poor country and place them in a wealthy one. How does the imbalance between these two worlds change a person's thinking and feeling? How do these changes manifest themselves in a personal sphere, a political sphere, over time?" [10] 

As she says, "These are old themes that continue to be relevant in today's world, the past informing the present, the present revealing the past." [11] 

The book paints the act of immigration and how the postcolonial war creates despair resulting in a sense of isolation inherited by each character in the novel. In a generous vision, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, Desai presents the human quandaries facing panoply of characters. This majestic novel of a busy, grasping time-every moment holding out the possibility of hope or betrayal-illuminates the consequences of colonialism and global conflicts of religion, race, and nationalism.

The novel is set in 1986 in India at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga, where the Indian border meets that of Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim, and Bhutan, and where people of many classes and cultures collide in their shared struggle to survive. Kiran Desai's novel presents the story of one family as a symbol of the global issues related to colonization and the resulting search for identity.

As we read the novel, we meet the retired judge, Jemubhai Patel, whose isolated house near the foot of the mountains is home also to his beloved dog Mutt and his cook. The judge and the cook have lived together in apparent symbiosis for many years when the judge's orphaned granddaughter, Sai, comes to live with them. Her arrival marks the beginning of the conflicts that defines the novel. Also central to the story are Gyan, Sai's Nepali tutor, and Biju, the cook's son, who has travelled to America in hopes of escaping poverty and making enough money to eventually rescue his father from servitude.

The central conflict of the novel revolves around the Nepalis' fight to gain education, health care, and other basic rights in India. Early in the story, a group of young insurgents storm the judge's house and steal his rifles, literally robbing him of the signs of his Western education and professional occupation. When the tutor, Gyan, with whom Sai has begun a romantic relationship, joins the insurgency. Sai finds herself caught in the middle of a war of class and caste discovers that she has also become a symbol of wealth that Gyan despises.

While Gyan and the insurgents are fighting a battle for rights and freedom in India, Biju, the cook's son, is fighting for his own survival and struggling to maintain his identity as he adapts to life in the U.S. As he hops from one menial job to the next, Biju discovers that America's opportunities are not as plentiful as he expected, and he has given up a servant's life in one country just to find the same life in new country, where he faces constant poverty and exploitation. He even notes that, through poverty in America is substantially less severe than poverty in India.

Desai presents the similarities between the judge, Gyan, and Biju- as they fight to find their identities and reconcile themselves with their histories.

The characters in the novel are bewildered and disillusioned by the world, with no initiative to speak of, nor any capacity to learn; quite often they're not even paying attention.

Almost all of characters have been stunted by their encounters with the West. As a student, isolated in racist England, the future judge feels "barely human at all" and leaps "when touched on the arm as if from an umbrella intimacy." Yet on his return to India, he finds himself despising his backward Indian wife.

Arguably the most beautiful portions of the book are the nuggets Desai paints of the cook's son Biju who gets by on the barest of bare from one minimum wage job to the other in New York City. "In the Gandhi café, the lights were kept low, the better to hide the stains. It was a long journey from here to the fusion trend, the goat cheese and basil samosa, the mango margarita. This was the real thing, generic Indian, and it could be ordered complete, one stop on the subway line or even on the phone: gilt and red chairs, plastic roses on the table with synthetic dewdrops," [12] Desai writes when she describes one of the Indian restaurants Biju works at.

What bind these seemingly disparate characters are shared historical legacy and a common experience of impotence and humiliation. For the characters in The Inheritance of Loss, escape is impossible and misery is birthright. Sai's parents - before they die - are filled with the same loneliness as their daughter; the son whose mother was bidding farewell earlier in this review botches his goodbye, and we learn that "Never again would he know love for a human being that wasn't adulterated by another, contradictory emotion" (37). (The son grows up to be the judge, arranged into a loveless marriage that descends into rape and other abuses.) The cook is an old man with no fulfillment in his own life, desperate that his son do better than he did; this pressure is eventually Biju's undoing. Sai's tutor before Gyan is Noni, a spinster who "never had love at all" (68). And so on, for the entire cast. It's an old story: "Certain moves made long ago," we are told, "had produced all of them" (199). They are, if you like, variations on an absence of dignity: children, criminals, and buffoons. And too often that's all they are - or at least the rest is hidden, the civilised sheen of Desai's prose obscuring the extent of the violence done to their lives by circumstances.

The plot of the novel is fascinating; however, its real charm lies in its atmospheric descriptions and in quirky characters with whom the reader quickly identifies. Desai is careful observer of behavior, both in India and in the US, with a fine eye for details which bring her character and narrative to life. She presents details dispassionately, illustrating her themes without making moral judgments about her characters. Here there are no saints or villains, just ordinary people trying to lead the best lives they can, using whatever resources are available to them.

Intensely human, Desai's characters, like people from all cultures, make huge sacrifices for their children, behave cruelly toward people they love, reject traditional ways of life and old values, rediscover what is important to them, suffer at the hands of faceless government officials, and learn, and grow, and make decisions, sometimes ill-considered, about their lives. Dealing with all levels of society and many different cultures, Desai shows life humor and brutality, its whimsy and its harshness, and its delicate emotions and passionate commitments in a novel that is both beautiful and wise.

The books language, scenarios and juxtapositions are funny, threatening, vivid and tender all at the same time. The comic element always intertwined with irony, as characters struggle with a world bigger than themselves, a world that only ever seems to accept them partially, and rarely on their own terms.

The novel's elaborate structure takes the reader into the world of Nationalism and migration, which seems contemporary and timeless, familiar and unpredictable. Chapters alternate between India and US, juxtaposing the slow pace of life in the hills with the frantic movements of an illegal migrant's existence, maintaining a degree of suspense until discontinuous narratives collide.

Kiran Desai writes an elegant and thoughtful study of families, the losses each member must confront alone, and the lies each tells himself/herself to make memories of the past more palatable.

It is also true that the book does not have a sense of the movement that has shaped the subcontinent's history- in this case the freedom struggle and the movement for Gorkhaland. The backdrop to the action in the novel is political unrest in Kalimpong where Nepali Ghurkas are campaigning - at first quite quietly and then with increasing force - for an independent Ghurkaland. The uprising brings a new wave of change to the main characters as conditions become significantly worse and much of what they've come to take for granted is brought into doubt. Desai has been condemned by local people in Kalimpong for portraying them as ignorant and violent and for being condescending.

The book has a growing sense of despair and decay as if the people, like the houses they live in and the property they own, are succumbing to the damp and mould of a monsoon season.

The Inheritance of Loss is a very inward-looking novel, with far more internal monologues and passages of description than exchange of dialogue, which despite the rough patches mentioned above plays to Desai's strengths.

As in much of immigrant writing, Kiran Desai is an outsider to all the worlds that form a part of landscape. She is merely the observer passing through. But, her knowledge of alienation makes protagonists' search for a sense of belonging more real.

The inheritance of loss depicts in its many details the tragedies of a third world country just free from colonialism. The main theme of the novel also appears to be the influence of the West on India and how Indians are wounded by the policies of the West. These influences have oppressed and degraded India.

Against the gigantic backdrop of the Himalayas, so savage with beauty and yet the stillness of its towering ranges directly draws upon the boring and mundane life of its characters with tumultuous inner sides and shades. The novel gives us delectable details of the beauty of the natural world. The sound of the wind, the pattering of the rain , the gurgling of pipes, the creaking and clattering of an old house Cho Oyu, the happy snoring of the faithful and happy dog Mutt, sometimes makes reading so refreshing that one can breathe the very crisp Himalayan air and feel surrounded by the looming dark forest. Ms Desai has presented in this book such lovely details that many a times it feels so much like 'our world'.The novel depicts very well in Jemubhai the dilemmas of post colonialism. The judge Jemubhai perfect manners and demeanor is very much British but he cannot get himself free from the shackles (which he thinks to be so) of traditional Gujrati and Indian mentality.

He feels guilty of ill treating his wife Nimmi, of shoving away the "holy coconut throwing in the water custom". He seems to be a man who is caught, caught between the past and the present, between his days in London and his slow and mundane life in the crumbling house Cho Oyu, between his daughter and his grand daughter, Sai, between the Nepali's struggling for their land and freedom and his own British world of thick volumes of English Literature, of crones at teatime and the choice of white sauce and brown sauce for dinner and his lovely dog Mutt. But soon Kalimpong becomes the hub of activities. The Nepali's struggle to get their own rights and land slowly creeps into the lives of the characters, the cook, the judge, Sai, Noni, Lola and gnaws and questions their very being..

The movement does not even spare Biju the cook's son in America who comes back only to be robbed of all his money and belongings. But yet the reader finds a quaint satisfaction in the union of father and son in the backdrop of a disturbed land of Kalimpong. At least Biju feels safe and at peace compared to his lonely life as a waiter thrown from one restaurant kitchen to another.

The progress of the human heart is clearly depicted in Sai. Her yearnings and passion for Gyan, the long wait , the quarrel of English values and Nepali struggles only make her realize and look at life more closely, the very human soul which had been quite frozen and regularized with strict orders in the missionary convent school in Dehra Dun.

The novel though rich with details and presenting a picturesque mosaic of life, at times falls prey to monotony and boredom. The darkness and the inner conflict sometimes weigh too much upon the mind and soul. But that's what a good writer should be capable of and Ms Desai has been very successful in touching and stirring the depths of human emotion and thought. A very contemplative work and a must read for all connoisseurs of literature

The novel is amazing in many ways. The picture of India drawn is intricate and fascinating. The characters are complex and the writing is simply stunning. However, the whole picture painted in this story leaves no room for hope, no room for joy, no room for even tiny bit of beauty.

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