The Inheritance of Loss Book Review

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Desai, K. (2006). The inheritance of loss. New York: Grove Press.

“The Inheritance of Loss” opens with a teenage Indian girl who is an orphan named Sai. She is living with her grandfather, a retired judge, in the town of Kalimpong part of the Indian Himalayas. The grandfather is a Cambridge-educated Anglophile. Sai is romantically involved with her math tutor, Gyan. He is the descendant of a Nepali Gurkha mercenary so their love seems uncertain from the beginning. He eventually recoils from her obvious privilege and falls in with a group of ethnic Nepalese insurgents. In a parallel narrative, we are shown the life of Biju, the son of the grandfather's cook, who belongs to the "shadow class" of illegal immigrants in New York. Biju spends much of his time dodging the authorities, moving from one ill-paid job to another. What binds these seemingly distinct characters is a shared historical legacy and a common experience of impotence and humiliation. The characters are part of certain events from long ago that had “produced” all of them, which means the centuries of subjection by the economic and cultural power of the West. But the beginnings of an apparently leveled field in a late-20th-century global economy serve only to scratch those wounds rather than heal them. Almost all of Desai's characters have been diminished by their encounters with the West. As a student, isolated in racist England, the future judge feels barely human at all and leaps when he is touched on the arm as if from an unbearable intimacy. Yet on his return to India, he finds himself despising his seemingly backward Indian wife. The judge is one of those "ridiculous Indians," who couldn't rid themselves of what they had learned, and whose Anglophilia can only turn into self-hatred. These Indians are an unwanted anachronism in postcolonial India. There long-suppressed peoples have begun to acknowledge their disregard and express their anger and despair. For one of the judge's neighbors in...
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