A reader's guide to The Inheritance of Loss

A tale of "comic tenderness and powerful political acuteness" ranging from New York to Nepal.

By: Dr Stephanie Forward (English Department)

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The Man Booker Prize for 2006 was won by Kiran Desai for her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss. At 35 she became the youngest female recipient of the award.

The panel’s head judge, Hermione Lee, enthused: "It is a magnificent novel of humane breadth and wisdom, comic tenderness and powerful political acuteness."

Desai lived in India until she was 14. She and her mother, the writer Anita Desai, spent a year in Cambridge before moving to the U.S. The Inheritance of Loss is not an autobiography, but it does draw on Desai’s family history and her youth in India, and also reflects the hostility she encountered when trying to settle in a new country.

Gompa at Yamphudin in the foothills of Kanchenjunga Copyrighted image Copyright: Oilphant under CC-BY-NC-ND licence
Gompa at Yamphudin in the foothills of Kanchenjunga [Image: Oilphant under CC-BY-NC-ND licence]

She depicts life in two continents, ranging from existence in the foothills of the Himalayas to the experiences of illegal immigrants in New York.

The book conveys the lack of understanding between different cultures, exploring what can happen when western elements filter into a non-western country. Set mainly in the 1980s, there is a backdrop of political unrest.

A retired judge, dwelling at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga, takes in his orphaned granddaughter Sai. A romance develops between Sai and her tutor, Gyan. The judge’s cook has a son, Biju, who obtains a tourist visa to the U.S., but finds life in New York problematic.

Desai has said that she sees everything "through the lens of being Indian". She has explained that her novel’s title "speaks of little failures, passed down from generation to generation".

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