THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS by Kiran Desai (Penguin), 324 pages, $22 paper. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
It was big fun watching Kiran Desai navigate the 2006 Authors Festival. Coming here days after being festooned with the Booker Prize, the low-key, almost shy writer met with the collective glare of famously competitive authors who could barely hide their envy.
"I just want to strangle her," said one grumpily.
Not having read The Inheritance Of Loss at the time, I was able to greet Desai warmly. But now that I've finished the prizewinning novel, count me among those who can't wait to get their fingers around her neck.
How can anyone be this good with only two novels on her resumé?
Her characters, all of them desperate and full of illusions, are richly complex. Jemubhai, the retired UK-educated judge living in a huge, disintegrating house on the Indian side of the Himalayas, has no idea he could become a target of radicals.
His granddaughter Sai can't fathom her privilege. Biju, the cook's son who flees to the U.S., hasn't let go of the American dream. Gyan, Sai's tutor, thinks insurgency will bring him dignity.
This book is politically astute, full of deep insights into the impact of globalization, the machinations of multiculturalism, the seeds of sexual violence and of terrorism and, though set in the 80s, it resonates eerily in the new millennium.
Gorgeous prose helps; no matter how it's deployed, it positively glows. Looking for emotional authenticity? Desai's description of the blossoming love between Sai and Gyan is achingly effective.
Sensations? Your own feet will grow numb as she describes Biju delivering Chinese food by bike through the snowy streets of New York City.
This is a book burdened by high expectations. Don't worry. The Inheritance Of Loss meets all of them.
One of the year's best.