Winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize, The Inheritance of Loss is a poignant and darkly humorous novel by Kiran Desai.
The novel takes place in a lush, isolated part of India in the northeastern Himalayas. Kalimpong is like the last slice of cake that no one claims, but everyone nibbles before the table is finally cleared. Skirmishes, police actions, and riots are common here as India, England, Bhutan, and Tibet reach for the last dollop of icing.
This is not the India of Thomas L. Friedman- bustling PhD’s processing your tax returns. This India is still processing the remnants of British colonialism.
In Kalimpong, vestiges of the British occupation are everywhere especially at the crumbling home of Judge Patel and his granddaughter, Sai. Sai reads the works of P. G. Wodehouse and James Herriot, and teatime is a carefully observed ritual served by “the cook.” As a retired member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), the judge is practically a stranger in his own country. At one time, the ICS meant security and respect. Now it is a reminder of an era many would rather forget.
On the other side of the globe, the cook’s son is an illegal immigrant in Manhattan. Fearful of deportation, Biju is outrageously exploited by everyone, even (or especially) other immigrants. Like the judge’s father who sought to improve his family’s status by sending his son to England, cook thinks America is his child’s ticket to prosperity. Sadly, Biju finds America as oppressive and class conscious as India.
The fragile tranquility of life in Kalimpong is disrupted by two events, 16-year-old Sai falls in love with her tutor, and civil war breaks out.
As the fighting intensifies, long held beliefs and traditions come under scrutiny. The residents of the mountain community start to question their personal identities. But in Kalimpong, as elsewhere, there is no easy answer to the question, “who am I?”