Here we have another good book about India and the residual effects of colonialism. The novel is set Kalimpong, a Himalayan town that is on the border with Nepal. It’s the mid-1980s and a judge, who had been educated in Cambridge (that’s England, not Massachusetts) at the time when India was struggling for its independence, retires to a dilapidated (though once grand) house in the hope of cutting himself off from the outside world. But the outside world enters, both in the form of his orphaned granddaughter and in the Nepalese movement for an independent state. Jemubhai Popatal reflects on his upbringing and education, and his Anglo-centrism, which has distorted his life. The current political situation endangers Popatal and wrecks his granddaughter’s romance with her Nepalese tutor. In the meanwhile, the cook’s son, Biju, has fled to the United States in search of a better life; but he is an illegal alien in New York, and his life there is a continued struggle.
The novel alternates between life in Kalimpong and Biju’s life in New York. Loss of cultural roots is a theme we see in many of our “multicultural” choices for outside reading, and it is beautifully explored in Inheritance of Loss, both through the Anglo-centric judge who returns to India after being educated in England and for Biju, lost in New York. The author, Kiran Desai, takes on the big question of whether anyone can ever “go home again,” and her answer is worth the reader’s journey.