Monday, September 1, 2008

The other NYC

I didn't stop reading (or working) while I was in NYC, though it may have seemed like it from my theatercentric blog posts (more to come, by the way, on the last show I saw before I left town). I finally got around to Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss, 2006 Booker Prize winner. It's a long novel that revels in the depressing details of ordinary life, which may or may not be surmountable by love and imagination--the ending isn't so uplifting that the author comes down on one side or the other. A retired English-educated Indian judge, living in a tumble-down house in the foothills of the Himalayas with his teenage granddaughter, and their cook's son illegally working and squatting in NYC, ponder their miserable existences and strangely mirror each others' multinational lives across a huge class divide as well as half the globe.

Very well written, with some good descriptive writing, and overall a good read. The sections in NYC were particularly good; there aren't as many novels written about the underbelly of New York in that way, though the squalor of London is fairly well explored in Indian diasporic writing (see Brick Lane). I didn't find the sections on the granddaughter as interesting, though one could certainly sympathize with her position: parents dead in Russia, suddenly thrown into the hills with nobody her own age but her tutor, who turns into a radical. Desai is wonderful at imagining situation, though I'm curious to read her other earlier novel and see how long she is on plot in that one. Overall, a very good read, though not one of my rare big wows.

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