28 June 2007

Kiran Desai - The Inheritance of Loss

The Desais, mother and daughter, have much in common - both were educated and have worked in both India and America, both have written novels about the contrast between the two countries, and both have been recognised by the Booker committee, mother nominated three times, daughter winning with this, her second novel. And on the basis of the last two books I've read, the daughter is a superior writer.

This book has much more depth than Fasting, Feasting, more detail and humour, and is more politically engaged. The structure is balanced, alternating between the story of a family unit - grandfather, a retired judge, granddaughter, cook - in North Eastern India in the mid 80s during political unrest, and the cook's son, scrabbling to survive in New York's restaurant kitchens as an illegal worker. The judge recalls his experience in going to England to study, and the effect it had on him, turning him into a not-quite-Indian, not-quite-English member of the Indian Civil Service, with arrogance and affectations, and a fear of women.

Desai is strongest in the emotional detail, of the granddaughter's budding romance, the cook's son's frustration, the judge's distance. Where Anita Desai uses a broad brush, Kiran has a fine one, and pinpoints attitudes and feelings expertly. This is likely to be a bestselling Booker, deservedly, rather than a forgotten one.


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