I finally finished The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai. I was so looking forward to reading this book, as I had heard nothing but good things about it. I even asked a woman on BART if she were enjoying, as she was reading it while on the way into the city, and she said that she was engrossed, and couldn’t pull herself away. I started this book almost a month ago, and I’m sad to say that I had a really difficult time getting into it. It’s sad, because the book is beautifully written. It’s the congruent story of a retired judge in Northern India, his granddaughter, his cook, and the cook’s son, who has left to find his fortune in New York. All of this during the Kalimpong uprising in the mid 1980s. From Widipedia, about Kalimpong, which gives a bit of background to the story:
Kalimpong is a hill town nestled in the Shiwalik Hills (or Lower Himalaya) in the Indian state of West Bengal.
Between 1986 and 1988, the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland and Kamtapur based on ethnic lines grew strong. Riots between the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), led by C K Pradhan, and the West Bengal government reached a standoff after a forty-day strike. The town was virtually under a siege, leading the state government to call in the Indian army to maintain law and order. This led to the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, a body that was given semi-autonomous powers to govern the district. Though Kalimpong is now peaceful, the issue of a separate state still lingers. In July 2004, the generally tranquil town was catapulted into national and international headlines after Maninder Pal Singh Kohli, a murderer wanted by Scotland Yard, was traced and found to be residing in Kalimpong.
The Inheritance of Loss shifts between the third world of this town and its surrounding area and the first world of New York, where Biju, the son of the cook, has illegally immigrated to try for a better life. But there he finds mostly humiliation, hard work, and very little pay. The book concentrates on the pain of exile and the arrows still slung and festering from the colonialist era.
He could not talk to his father; there was nothing left between them but emergency sentences, clipped telegram lines shouted out as if in the midst of a war. They were no longer relevant to each other’s lives except for the hope that they would be relevant. He stood with his head still in the phone booth studded with bits of stiff chewing gum and the usual FuckShitCockDickPussyLoveWar, swastikas, and hearts shot with arrows mingling in a dense graffiti garden, too sugary too angry too perverse-the sick sweet rotting mulch of the human heart.
If he continued his life in New York, he might never see his pitaji again. It happened all the time; ten years passed, fifteen, the telegram arrived, or the phone call, the parent was gone and the child was too late. Or they returned and found they’d missed the entire last quarter of a lifetime, their parents like photograph negatives. And there were worse tragedies. After the initial excitement was over, it often became obvious that the love was gone; for affection was only a habit after all, and people, they forget, or they become accustomed to its absence. They returned and found just the facade; it had been eaten from inside, like Cho Oyu being gouged by termites from within.
So, why couldn’t I get sucked into this story? Why was it that the TV, the internet, cooking, and even cleaning pulled me away from the story? I’m not sure. I found much of the writing to be hauntingly beautiful, but the story ultimately unsatisfying. When I finished it the other night, I’m sorry to say that I was relieved, and ready to move on to my next book.