The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

I’m in the Bay Area tonight for my book club meeting. We discussed The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai.

I’ve decided I need to change the way I evaluate books. Books as art is my new paradigm. I can appreciate a Jackson Pollock painting without needing to know what it is. So I should be able to appreciate a book without it telling a story or having a plot. I tried to look at The Inheritance of Loss as a work of art.

There is no doubt that Kiran Desai is an extraordinarily talented writer. Her writing is lyrical. Her vignettes are memorable, sometimes funny, sometimes terribly sad. Perhaps that is what makes this such a depressing book. Inheritance of loss is about how life is unending loss and there is no hope. Desai is so talented that her depiction of life as loss is arresting. But the total lack of hope in this book was too much for me.

Of course life is loss, that is the easy part. The important part is hope. But there is no hope in this book. I admire people who in spite of overwhelming loss still strive to look forward with hope. So, if I measure Inheritance of Loss as art I can appreciate Desai’s talent but I don’t like the book much.

During the book club discussion the review of The Inheritance of Loss in the  NY Times by Pankaj Mishra was quoted. I just read the review. It does a much better job than I have of summing up this book. To Mishra the theme of The Inheritance of Loss is the "common experience of impotence and humiliation" shared by all of the characters in the book. Mishra says:

"Desai offers her characters no possibility of growth or redemption.
Though relieved by much humor, "The Inheritance of Loss" may strike
many readers as offering an unrelentingly bitter view. But then, as
Orhan Pamuk wrote soon after 9/11, people in the West are "scarcely
aware of this overwhelming feeling of humiliation that is experienced
by most of the world’s population," which "neither magical realistic
novels that endow poverty and foolishness with charm nor the exoticism
of popular travel literature manages to fathom." This is the invisible
emotional reality Desai uncovers as she describes the lives of people
fated to experience modern life as a continuous affront to their
notions of order, dignity and justice. We do not need to agree with
this vision in order to marvel at Desai’s artistic power in expressing
it."