The Inheritance of Loss: Book Review by Asha Seth

#MyThoughts: In my opinion, some books aren’t mere books. They are secret holders, stubborn secret holders that hate to divulge anything until unless forced to. ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ gave me a similar feeling.

It was the year 2014. I was staying in Bangalore then. An early morning walk on the streets of Indira Nagar is something I most enjoyed back then. And just like that, I found a street-side bookseller. Unknown and unaware of its reputation as a Man Booker Prize Winner, I picked up ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ by Kiran Desai merely because alike this year I was reading Indian fiction back in 2014, and well, also because it was a cheap buy.

I had started reading it on the way back from the walk but in just a few pages, I had lost the story. Or maybe there wasn’t one to begin with. In any case, disinterested and tad frustrated, I stowed it away then, only to pick it up now.

Here’s the review.

The Inheritance of Loss
Image Credit: Goodreads

The ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ digs around the lives of 5 characters:

  1. Jemubhai Patel, retired chief justice
  2. Sai, his orphaned granddaughter
  3. The judge’s cook
  4. Biju, the cook’s son
  5. Gyan, Sai’s love interest and her math tutor

The story is set in 1980’s Kalimpong, near Darjeeling in north-east India. The retired judge stays atop a crumbling hill facing Mount Kanchanjunga, with the cook and a dog named Mutt. They live quite a solitary, monotonous life until Sai drops at their doorstep. The cook does his best to shower love and attention on the orphaned little girl that she craves from her grandfather.

The judge appoints Gyan as Sai’s math tutor and soon enough they are involved in a discreet love affair. Gyan, later, joins the Nepali insurgents and abandons Sai. Biju, the cook’s son, illegally manages a work visa for the US, and is striving in rather dull and grim restaurants trying to make a living in the West. In a growing state of unrest and frenzy back in his homeland, Biju decides to come back to his father. On his way back, he is mugged by the Nepali gorkhas, right down to his underpants, and is forced to go home barefoot.

In the 380 odd pages, the novel spans through decades of judge’s life intertwined with those of Sai, the cook and in turn his son, Biju. The book breathes through two parts and constantly flits between the trudging lives of characters in India and that in the US. Their experiences, struggles, and the consistent feeling of not belonging neither here not there, fill in for the sentimental lack.

Although, Ms Desai’s language and style is quite impeccable, too many layers of incidents overlapped with a whole bunch of weak characters does not really pay off the reader’s craving for a substantial plot. In fact, you are left grappling for a plot that doesn’t even exist. The rising post-colonialism restlessness leads one to hope for a concrete end to the haywire, crisscross pattern of the plot, but alas!

This in many ways is a style mishmash alike Jhumpa Lahiri and V S Naipaul in the immigrant fiction genre who’ve managed to weave exuberant nostalgic tales, finding meaning to existence, through their characters, in a country their own and one not. And that is quite expected, as even Ms Desai is an Indian living in the United States.

As for ‘The Inheritance of Loss’, it fails to strike a chord. The epic secret or sense held amidst its pages was lost on me. I hate to admit, I struggled in vain. So I may give it another go, to break through the messy construct, to finally arrive at the great story the book’s praised for. But not any time soon.

If you happen to read ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ or have already read it, do share your thoughts below.

©The Musing Quill


23 thoughts on “The Inheritance of Loss: Book Review by Asha Seth

Add yours

  1. Asha, I read this book just after it got the Man Booker. At that time, I was in the habit of picking up all Booker prize winners, just to discover great writing I had missed. Like you, I just couldn’t connect with “The Inheritance of Loss”. I guess it happens once in a while, sometimes a great book doesn’t resonate with one. Perhaps it was the wrong frame of mind, a false notion or just a different set of literary sensibilities… Anyway…:))


    1. Literary sensibilities, yes! That’s the term I was looking for. I have always believed that every book has something in it for each one of its readers. If I fail to find that ‘thing’ I just conclude that the book did not have anything in it for me, and just like that it’s forever out of my mind and life. I might never give it another try, unless I was given a $100 to do just that! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I always appreciate being able to take my own call on reading or not reading a piece of work. No one’s opinion must influence that factor. I’m glad you made your choice. And once you’re done, do review. I’d love to know what you think of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the books are as much about timings as they are about the taste 🙂 I read this book last year, it was my first book by Kiran Desai 🙂 but unlike you I liked it 🙂 Sometimes its not about plot …it about the feeling…the nostalgia…the lanes and the memories a book creates 🙂 I think all the book that for prize win comes under this category or if they create a new style of writing or story telling 🙂 After this book I read another book by kiran desai …hullabaloo in the guava orchard 🙂 I found it witty and amusing and definitely a good read 🙂 I would suggest you to read a book without thinking of the story …instead try finding the characters 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you on a lot of levels, NJ. For me it’s always about the substance, and is not restricted to the plot or characters.
      In all fairness, the book does have some less lacklustre extracts too that touch a reader’s mind if not heart, but I credit that to her writing style which is truly unique and engaging. And this I mention twice now.
      The nostalgic chords have been well struck, but do they make an impact? I missed it. So, yes, the plot may not be significant, but the characters definitely needed more meat in terms of built-up. I’m sure I’ll like it better if I go at it again with a clean slate. Perhaps! And like you said, I’ll be on the lookout for the characters.
      It’s been on my list to read ‘Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard’ and sometime soon that one.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is an acclaimed book but I have yet to read it. Honestly speaking, all these acclaimed books by Indian authors are beyond me. Be it ‘God of Small Things’ or ‘The White Tiger’, I failed to understand the hype around them. May be my literary tastes are not so evolved yet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My thoughts are in perfect sync with yours, Swalia. I am just made to feel so incompetent by some books, I fail to infer if my knowledge of things and comprehension is that weak or these books really lack matter worth the hype or craze.
      ‘God of Small Things’ was totally beyond me, but then, I read it when I was 16. I like to believe that it was not the right age perhaps, or maybe I’m just helping myself from not feeling too bad. 😛


      1. Even I read ‘God of Small Things’ almost at the same age and I think that probably I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate the book at the time. But still, I will never pick the book again.


“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” ― James A. Michener

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