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Whistler Reads: THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS

abstract:&deThe Whistler Reads group is set to discuss this year's Mann-Booker prize winner, Inheritance Of Loss by Kiran Desai on Thursday July 5th at 7pm at the Tandoori Grill restaurant in Whistler. With the group membership approaching 200, Founder Paula Shackleton is thrilled to see the support of the Sea to Sky corridor that includes the communities of West Vancouver, Squamish and Pemberton. "It is very exciting to see members from each of these communities participating in Whistler Reads. We welcome everyone - individuals, member of other groups, locals and visitors. Our mantra is, 'whether you live, work or play here'. Exciting opportunities are on the way!" Here is a list of research and discussion points the group will cover. Why not join WR today?

article:

July 04, 2007
— &creativeAKiran Desai

About the Author


Kiran Desai is just 31 years old, and already a celebrated prize-winning author. She is the daughter of Anita Desai, who was herself short-listed for the Booker Prize three times. Now that would be an interesting family dinner-table discussion. Inheritance Of Loss is Kiran's second novel. Salmon Rushdie gave her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchardhigh praise.

Born and raised in India until the age of 14, Kiran immigrated to America with her mother and lives in New York state. Like many people who move away from their native lands, her identification with her heritage has strengthened over time to the point where she views everything as both an Indian and an American. She says, "It is this feeling of being caught between two continents that infuses The Inheritance of Loss. At times, it appears to rejoice in the intermingling of cultures; at others it seems to inspire a wistful melancholy.

Does Desai feel liberated or limbo-ed by her odd dual citizenship? "Both." She laughs, a wriggling laugh. "In many ways it's incredibly lucky, enriching, to see both sides. On the other hand I do worry. You think, what's next? This book is made up of many little bits and pieces, of half-stories, and immigrants in a basement you just see briefly as you pass by. So I do think, will I ever have an entire story to tell?" The advantage is that she feels she could settle almost anywhere. "I feel as comfortable anywhere as I feel uncomfortable anywhere."--interview Guardian

After taking a writing course at Columbia University, she was able to publish her first book. Unlike other students she decided to drop out of grad school, not go through exhaustive grant writing processes, and took the next eight years to write "Inheritiance" all the while being badgered by family members and friends (with the exception of her mother who stood by her) to give up the book, get a job and get health insurance!

She shunned writing groups because she felt she could take her work to further extremes on her own, without peer criticism or sanctions.

INHERITANCE OF LOSS RESEARCH LINKS

1. Desai author background(pronounced short-short: De-sye)
2. interview with the author
3. Guardian article describing her win of the Booker Prize

This book reminds me of other Indo-Asian-American authors whose rich prose describe a mix of post-Colonial politics with insights into immigrant cultural identity and loss of identity. Does anyone else think of Salman Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry, Jhumpa Lahiri or V.S. Naipaul? Each of these writers have told stories blending homeland traditions with the Diaspora experience, and travails experienced while merging into new lands --- poverty, racism, integration, loss of identity.Here is another source on that troublesome term, "Post Colonial Writers" from Washington State University.

POSSIBLE DISCUSSION POINTS

Writing Technique
1. Desai brilliantly sets the story in the first 3 pages, introducing all the major characters in the book, the time period and what the conflict of the story is to be. What were your first thoughts on the characters? Did your views about some characters change over the course of the book: the judge - Mr. J.P. Patel, the cook, the son- Biju? (In French 'bijou' means jewel.) How did you like her writing style? Who would you compare it to?

himalayas.jpeg

2. The atmosphere of the book is dominated by Mount Kanchenjunga(almost another character in the book) -- it is in the first paragraph and the last,

"Briefly visible above the vapor, Kanchenjunga was a far peak whittled out of ice, gathering the last of the light, a plume of snow blown high by the storms at its summit.... pg 1.

"Again the gate rattled... Kanchenjunga appeared above the parting clouds, as it did only very early in the morning during this season. 'Bijou?' whispered the cook..." pg 324
and the heart-wrenching reunion concludes...

If anyone has been to the high Himalayas, perhaps they can share their impressions?

Themes & Conflict

3. An important theme is the examination of cultural identity and socio-economic class in both countries: America and India. What similarities and what specific differences are there in the way people live, the way they treat each other (judge to cook) (police to cook) (upstairs diners to downstairs cooks in America)

4. Another theme is "fatalism vs free will". Were you surprised at how the cook discounted the treatment he was receiving at the hands of others? (what did you think about the him after he confesses his actions as an employee after all those years?)

5. The background conflict of the book is the post-colonial border disputes between India and Nepal circa 1986. Here is the website again that covers the Nepalese insurgent aspect, which was new to me. It is interesting that Gurkas (British used Indo-Tibeto-Mongolian forces extensively) and retirees have just this March 2007, been given guarantees of residency rights in Britain. Here is some info on the Gurkas in Wikipedia.


6. I began to think of other countries' civl wars, what caused them, and the literature that sprang from each. What books have you read that affected you - how does INHERITANCE OF LOSS compare?

America - slavery: (The Red Badge of Courage),
France - rise of the underclass: (Tale of Two Cities),
USSR - assassination of the Czars and rise of Bolshevism: (Dr. Zhivago),
Spain - socialism vs fascism: (The Sun Also Rises)
Rwanda - tribal genocide (Hotel Rwanda)

This quote from pg 279 in Chapter 44 describes to the decent into chaos and nightmare...

"The incidents of horror grew, through the changing of the seasons, through winter and a flowery spring, sumer, then rain and winter again. Roads were closed, there was curfew every night, and Kalimpong was trapped in its own madness. You couldn't leave the hillsides; nobody even left their houses if they could help it but stayed locked in and barricaded. If you were Nepali reluctant to joint in, it was bad. The Metal Box watchman had been beaten, forced to repeat "Jai Gorkha," and dragged to Mahakala Temple to swear an oath of loyalty to the cause.
If you weren't Nepali it was worse. If you were Bengali, people who had known you your whole life wouldn't acknowledge you in the street. Even the Hiharis, Tibetans, Lepchas, and Sikkimese didn't acknowledge you...."

7. The sisters, Lola and Noni consider themselves quite unlucky to have been living at the very time when the whole colonial party ends. Each are aware of the forces at work separating them from the masses, but like most people, they do not react until they are being reacted to, and always there is a sense of loss over what they should have had, indeed what they should have inherited... Hence the title, "The Inheritance of Loss"

"... people could name them, recognize them---- the few rich----- but Lola an Noni could barely distinguish between the individuals making up the crowd. The poor... the sisters had never paid much attention for the simple reason that they didn't have to. It was natural they would incite envy, they supposed, and the laws of probability favored their slipping through life without anything more than muttered comments, but every now and then, somebody suffered the rotten luck of being in the exact wrong place at the exact wrong place and time, when it all caught up----generations worth of trouble settled on them. Just when Lola had thought it would continue, a hundred years like the one past------Trollope, BBC, A burst of hilarity at Christmas---all of a sudden, all that they had claimed innocent, fun, funny, not really to matter, was proven wrong." pg. 242

Treatment of Women

8. What do you think is going to become of Sai Patel, the young granddaughter, by the end of the story? Here is a girl who is orphaned when her parents are crushed by the bus in Russia, she is pulled out of the convent school, brought to live with her financially exhausted Grandfather. This is a country where women are killed in "cooking fires" for default on their dowries. Did anyone see "Water," the movie about the widowed child who joins the group of other widows? Who will she marry? Would her education allow her to support herself?

9. On another example of women's treatment, we have the judge's wife. What happened to the judge's wife? Why was he so cruel to her? Remember the scene where she travels to see the political train pass and what the consequences were? What does this passage tell you?

10. Then what did you feel about Judge Patel when his dog Mutt goes missing? Is it every possible to make a character -- all bad, all good? When people are starving and this dog is apparently being pampered -- could you feel the anger of the people?

Favorite Passages?

11. Mark the page and read it to the group. (I loved the airport scene, the reunion of the cook with his son at the end, and was compelled by the revealing passage where the Judge mistreats his wife... )

I'm sure there are lots of other things to discuss as I've barely touched upon all the possibilities in this book. Someone please bring your digital camera and take pictures for the website!!

If you are had trouble following the story and characters or shifting locations in the book, you might try the audio version. I had some travel obligations and downloaded the book from itunes to listen on my ipod. A most enjoyable. The narrator has a lovely British accent (bearing a remarkable resemblance to Audrey Hepburn’s voice,) and her Indian decent further enhances the telling as she invokes a different voice for each character: the stuffy aunty sounds like a stuffy, pampered woman, the cook - a devoted old-style servant. This is a book that craves to be read aloud.

AFTER THIS WE'LL BE SWITCHING FROM CHAI TO GREEN TEA..... pick up a copy of our next book, The End of East, by Jen Sookfong Lee (Sept 15th) ...and write to me over the summer!


Thank you to our sponsor: Telus

 

 

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