20070916

The Inheritance of Loss

Kiran Desai - The Inheritance of Loss

Betyg: 3

East is East and West is West and ever the twain shall meet.

On the one hand, The Inheritance of Loss *is* a very well-constructed book. Starting in India in the late 80s and following a series of characters both in the then-present and the past, in India and abroad, it mines themes like colonization; fanaticism; the borders between nationalities, classes and sexes; the, if you will, institutional Stockholm syndrome of people used to servitude. It moves from ancient India to old England to New York and the other way around - the English colonizing India, Indians going to Oxford, the English leaving India, Indians emigrating to the US. The idea that people something more than simply the nationality others put on them; you've got westernized Indians, indianized Westerners, stateless Nepalese, and of course the eternal "melting pot" of New York where everyone's not-American. There are lots of points that are well-made without ever turning into sermonizing.

On the other hand, it's... well... I don't want to say dull, because it's not, but unengaging. For starters, I know Indian writers often like to use a flowery language but damnit, Desai makes Rushdie sound like Hemingway. Every time she goes off on a "poetic" tangent I have to struggle to not simply skip ahead. The flexible timeline - the narrative skips from the present to the recent past to the past with no warning, in the middle of chapters, and then back again - serves to make a point: how difficult it can be to simply say "Well, the past is past and now it's a new world" when everything around you is still a result of what has gone before (and how convenient it is to use past wrongs as an excuse!) But it also makes it very hard to follow, especially since nothing much really happens in the book - or rather, it does, but it's all in the background to characters brooding in kitchens and on porches. Not that I'm very fond of plot-driven books, but it's nice to have SOMETHING to look forward to (and no, the rather clichéd characters don't count).

It took me a long time to finish this since I simply couldn't be bothered to pick it up half the time. When I did manage to get into it, I liked it, but... not enough.

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