Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Inheritance of Loss: A Review by Lizzie Stark

This is the first of a many-part series written by the staff and editors of Fringe Magazine, who will be reviewing books from the Pool as part of the 25 Books Project.

Since I'm about to start an intense grad program in journalism, I've been making the best of my time by reading fiction at every opportunity. And since I've spent most of my life reading (and appreciating) the white dudes, I decided to only read non-white dudes for pleasure reading for the next year or two. And what better place to turn than the Fringe Pool?

I recently finished Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. And wow, this was a beautifully written book set in the tumultuous area of northern India. The main narrative belongs to Sai, an orphaned Indian girl who lives with her eccentric grandfather, an ex-judge. Almost equal narrative time is given to her Grandfather, their cook, and the cook's son. At times, these perspective shifts were frustrating, breaking up the fluidity of the narrative, especially since the plot lines didn't interact so much as develop the major theme of the book -- post-colonialism.

In particular, Desai is concerned with the emotional toll of colonialism, which she approaches through various takes on immigration -- the isolation that Bidu, the cook's son, feels as an illegal immigrant, coupled with his father's alternating sorrow and joy that his son is in America. Similarly, Sai's grandfather recounts his past, the way that his English education made him a misfit at home and abroad, and in doing so, made him close his heart to love and compassion. Set against the backdrop of alienation, Sai's story -- that of a young girl's first heartbreak -- puts the rest into perspective.

This incredibly complex web of plot lines and narratives left me in awe; I am still sorting through my feelings. I cannot say that it was a happy book, for the story revealed a seamy underbelly to immigration in the US, as well as the emotional toll that colonialism continues to take on India. After putting the book down, I had one of those wonderful post-art-experience-exhalations that let me know I had absorbed something rich and complicated. If you want an easy beach read, skip this one, but if you want a contemplative book full of characters and issues that stay with you long after you've put it down, read on!

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