The House of DaVinci

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Book 3: The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2006 which is the biggest prize in fiction in the Commonwealth. I haven't read too many Booker winners, but some of my favourite books have won the prize, such as Life of Pi and Clara Callan. This book is also a Heather's Pick which makes it a guaranteed read at Indigo Books - you get your money back if you don't like it. I try to read most of Heather's Picks as they are generally pretty good. I think I'd be asking for my money back.
This book is set in the Himalayas at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga, in the village of Kalimpong, which after much puzzling, I have figured out is in India. . There is a Nepali uprising (this is during the 1980s) which is the background for most of the book as the village becomes more and more under seige.
Sai lives in an isolated house at the foot of the mountain with her grandfather, the Judge, and their cook. It is their story. Sai was educated at a convent while her parents went to Russia, and after their deaths ends up with her grandfather. She speaks English and celebrates Christmas surrounded by the senior citizen neighbours of this isolated house. Her mathematics tutor, Gyan, becomes her love and obsession. Gyan, however, is from Nepal, and she represents everything both wrong and right in the world. He struggles with finding himself and getting over cowardice and trying to figure out if he believes in the uprising.
We learn of the Judge's past, how he was sent to England in hopes of becoming part of the Indian Civil Service, and how his family, his village, puts all their hopes on him. We learn of his self-loathing and horrible existence in England, and how his life back in India is a lie. He hates all things Indian and English, and his dog is his only love.
Cook has managed to send his son Biju to New York, and his hopes are wrapped up with Biju's success. Biju existence as an illegal alien working in the kitchens of New York mirrors that of his father, still stuck in India, neither moving towards anything but a bare soul stealing existence.
This story didn't really grab me. It took me forever to work throught the first half of the novel, but the second half moved more quickly. It had some beautiful language, very evocative pictures of the landscape and atmosphere in the Himalayas but it didn't capture me. So much language, so little plot at points, made me want to skim the pages. In some ways I liked it. So many people, none of them happy, none of them settled in their skins, or in their geography. I can definitely see why so many people liked it. But it just didn't capture me.


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