The Inheritance of Loss is a story about how Sai, the Judge’s grand-daughter and Biju, the cook’s son, inherit the loss of their parents/guardians’ identity. It is a story about how Colonial british and the global present-day world usher confusion in people when cultures clash. It is a story about how the rich can subjugate the poor and how that interaction brings about the loss of an identity. A very well thought out novel, not an easy read but an engrossing one.
The book is set in Cho-Oyu, an crumbling old mansion in Kalimpong, in the foothills of the Himalayas and in the under-belly of New York, in cheap bakeries and Indian restaurants. The time shifts between the early 1930’s in colonial India and Britain and to the mid 80’s, in independent India with unhappy Nepalis and an multi-culutural America and the American dream.
The main characters are Sai, an orphan, her grandfather, the Judge, their cook and the cook’s son, Biju. The Judge went to Britain to study during the colonial times, and returned a confused man. He spent time in Britain, scared about being a brown in a white world, locked up in his room and the library, but came back to India with pretensions of being an agent of change that will make India like Britain. That is not an easy task, and slowly, he became more irritated with his folk, with their naivity, with their innocence and simplicity, and with a plum job in the ICS, turned into a grumpy, irritated Anglophile.
The cook, was recruited by the Judge when he was still very young, and the cook grew up, working for the Judge, getting used to his idiosyncrasies and moving with him. He left his family behind and committed himself to servitude. He had no identity of his own, and in a quest to create it, in a quest to have something be his own, he sent his son to America, to earn an identity, not only for his son but form himself too.
Sai, was orphaned as a kid and she come to live with her grand-father in Cho-Oyu. Spending time with her Grand-father and many of the Anglophiles (the author’s take on the middle class with their green-card holding son, and their love for all things western), she grows up as an english-girl. But, she falls in love with her Nepali tutor-Gyan, and thus starts her struggles with her identity.
Biju, the cook’s son, struggles as an illegal immigrant in America, and probably the only character in the book who is unwanted in the country that he lives in. He is exploited, poor, almost homeless, and, as is the main theme of the book, identity-less.
Kiran Desai, spins a wonderful story around these characters, set in the troublesome Gorkhaland rebellion in the North-East, weaves in and out of the stories of all these people, making the book a memorable read.