Unformatted text preview: PENGUIN BOOKS THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS
‘Kiran Desai is a terrific writer. This book richly fulfils the promise of
her first’ Salman Rushdie
‘A wonderful writer of comic set-pieces. A novel that manages to be
both warm-hearted about human nature and clear-sighted about
humanity’s flaws. Desai has a mature, compassionate voice’ Observer
‘Moving and bleakly comic… informed by wit’ Sunday Times
‘Desai brilliantly transports you to her novel’s setting, making the
characters’ hopes and dreams feel as familiar as your own’ Glamour
‘Written with scintillating assurance and moral rigour’ Spectator
‘Desai weaves a rich tapestry of back stories and historical threads’
‘No subject is tired when tackled with the energy and intelligence of
Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. Her Indian characters are
exquisitely particular – funny but never quaint… Bittersweet,
entertaining and just shy of tragic. Surprisingly wise’ Economist
‘Kiran Desai’s extraordinary new novel manages to explore, with
intimacy and insight, just about every contemporary international
issue: globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality,
fundamentalism and terrorist violence… lit by a moral intelligence at
once fierce and tender’ New York Times Book Review
‘Desai is wildly in love with the light and landscape and the
characters who inhabit it. Summer comes alive with its sights and
sounds and smells, and the rainy season seems to pour down with
more force than in any other novel you’ve read… [She has] a love for
language that few American writers her age seem able to rival. This
story of exiles at home and abroad, of families broken and fixed, of
love both bitter and bittersweet is one of the most impressive novels
in English of the past year, and I predict you’ll read it… with your
heart in your chest, inside the narrative, and the narrative inside you’ Chicago Tribune
‘A meditative look at the conflicting bonds of love and duty’ Vogue
‘Desai’s assurance and energy keep the plot on track and bring her
ambitious tale to a fittingly strong conclusion’ People
‘Seldom has an author offered so fearless a glimpse into how ordinary
lives are caught up in the collision of modernity and cultural
tradition, and in the schisms and fanaticism that all too often ensue’
‘With its razor insights and emotional scope, The Inheritance of Loss
amplifies a developing and formidable voice’ Los Angeles Times
‘Desai’s characters are so alive, the places so vivid, that we are always
inside their lives. Her insights into human nature, rare for so young a
writer, juggle timeless wisdom and twenty-first century self-doubt’
‘Desai’s strength lies in her ability to capture, with humor and grace,
the nuanced complexities of the characters and their times’ Denver
‘The novel is finely accomplished in the way it makes connections
between private lives and public events’ Seattle Times
‘Sweet and savoury, sometimes wise and desperately forlorn, this is an
engaging second novel from a brave new talent’ Globe & Mail
‘With her second novel, Kiran Desai has written a sprawling and
delicate book, like an ancient landscape glittering in the rain… Desai
has a touch for alternating humor and impending tragedy that one
associates with the greatest writers, and her prose is uncannily
beautiful, a perfect balance of lyricism and plain speech’ O: The Oprah
‘Glorious… luminous’ San Francisco Chronicle
‘Stunning… In this alternately comical and contemplative novel, Desai
deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating the pain of exile, the ambiguities of post-colonialism and the blinding desire for a
“better life”’ Publishers Weekly (starred review)
‘Desai’s Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard introduced an astute observer
of human nature and a delectably sensuous satirist. In her second
novel, Desai is even more perceptive and bewitching… Desai is
superbly insightful in her rendering of compelling characters, and in
her wisdom regarding the perverse dynamics of society. Desai
incisively and imaginatively dramatizes the wonders and tragedies of
Himalayan life and, by extension, the fragility of peace and
elusiveness of justice, albeit with her own powerful blend of
tenderness and wit’ Booklist
‘The book’s magic lies in [its] rich images’ Entertainment Weekly
‘A brilliant talent. Creating gorgeous pictures in the mind, Desai
generously embellishes on colours, fragrances and evocative
‘Exquisite. Kiran Desai meets the complexity of our times with a
language that is supple in its syntax and its rhythms. The story she
tells is filled with patiently acquired insights about humanity, and
every other page is a hymn to nature’s abundance’ Nadeem Aslam
‘A remarkable book, funny and insightful – a showcase for the
amazing range and depth of Kiran Desai’s writing’ Manil Suri
‘The Inheritance of Loss, so moving, funny, unflinching, is the best
novel I’ve yet read about the contemporary immigrant life and the ongoing parallel world “left behind.” And the writing is extraordinary:
astonishingly observant and inventive, joyously alive. Really, it’s just
the best, sweetest, most delightful new novel I’ve read in ages!’
Francisco Goldman, author of The Divine Husband
‘If God is in the details, Ms. Desai has written a holy book. Page after
page, from Harlem to the Himalayas, she captures the terror and
exhilaration of being alive in this world’ Gary Shteyngart, author of
The Russian Debutante’s Handbook
‘The Inheritance of Loss is a revelation in the possibilities of the novel.
It is vast in scope, from the peaks of the Himalayas to the immigrant quarters of New York; the gripping stories of people buffeted by the
winds of history, personal
and political. Kiran Desai’s voice is fiercely funny – a humour born
out of darkness, the laughter of the dispossessed. It is a remarkable
novel because it is rich in that most elusive quality in fiction: wisdom’
Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
OceanofPDF.com The Inheritance of Loss
Kiran Desai PENGUIN BOOKS OceanofPDF.com To my mother with so much love
OceanofPDF.com PENGUIN BOOKS
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P
2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017,
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by Atlantic Monthly Press,
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc. 2006
First published in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton 2006
Published in Penguin Books 2007
Copyright © Kiran Desai, 2006
All rights reserved
The moral right of the author has been asserted
“The Boast of Quietness,” translated by Stephen Kessler, copyright © 1999 by
Maria Kodama: translation © 1999 by Stephen Kessler, from Selected Poems
by Jorge Luis Borges, edited by Alexander Coleman. Used by permission of
Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall
not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without
the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is
published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the
ISBN: 978-0-14-192573-8 OceanofPDF.com Boast of Quietness
Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigious than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and my death, I observe the ambitious and would like
understand them. Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air. Their night
is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack. They speak of
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of the same poverty. They
speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rhythm of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword,
the willow grove’s visible prayer as evening falls. Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous
multitude. They are indispensable, singular, worthy of tomorrow. My
name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn’t expect
—Jorge Luis Borges OceanofPDF.com The Inheritance of Loss
One All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water
creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean
shadows and depths. 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.
Sai, sitting on the veranda, was reading an article about giant
squid in an old National Geographic. Every now and then she looked
up at Kanchenjunga, observed its wizard phosphorescence with a
shiver. The judge sat at the far corner with his chessboard, playing
against himself. Stuffed under his chair where she felt safe was Mutt
the dog, snoring gently in her sleep. A single bald lightbulb dangled
on a wire above. It was cold, but inside the house, it was still colder,
the dark, the freeze, contained by stone walls several feet deep.
Here, at the back, inside the cavernous kitchen, was the cook,
trying to light the damp wood. He fingered the kindling gingerly for
fear of the community of scorpions living, loving, reproducing in the
pile. Once he’d found a mother, plump with poison, fourteen babies
on her back.
Eventually, the fire caught and he placed his kettle on top, as
battered, as encrusted as something dug up by an archeological team,
and waited for it to boil. The walls were singed and sodden, garlic
hung by muddy stems from the charred beams, thickets of soot
clumped batlike upon the ceiling. The flame cast a mosaic of shiny
orange across the cook’s face, and his top half grew hot, but a mean
gust tortured his arthritic knees.
Up through the chimney and out, the smoke mingled with the mist
that was gathering speed, sweeping in thicker and thicker, obscuring
things in parts—half a hill, then the other half. The trees turned into
silhouettes, loomed forth, were submerged again. Gradually the vapor
replaced everything with itself, solid objects with shadow, and
nothing remained that did not seem molded from or inspired by it. Sai’s breath flew from her nostrils in drifts, and the diagram of a giant
squid constructed from scraps of information, scientists’ dreams, sank
entirely into the murk.
She shut the magazine and walked out into the garden. The forest
was old and thick at the edge of the lawn; the bamboo thickets rose
thirty feet into the gloom; the trees were moss-slung giants, bunioned
and misshapen, tentacled with the roots of orchids. The caress of the
mist through her hair seemed human, and when she held her fingers
out, the vapor took them gently into its mouth. She thought of Gyan,
the mathematics tutor, who should have arrived an hour ago with his
But it was 4:30 already and she excused him with the thickening
When she looked back, the house was gone; when she climbed the
steps back to the veranda, the garden vanished. The judge had fallen
asleep and gravity acting upon the slack muscles, pulling on the line
of his mouth, dragging on his cheeks, showed Sai exactly what he
would look like if he were dead.
“Where is the tea?” he woke and demanded of her. “He’s late,
said the judge, meaning the cook with the tea, not Gyan.
“I’ll get it,” she offered.
The gray had permeated inside, as well, settling on the silverware,
nosing the corners, turning the mirror in the passageway to cloud. Sai,
walking to the kitchen, caught a glimpse of herself being smothered
and reached forward to imprint her lips upon the surface, a perfectly
formed film star kiss. “Hello,” she said, half to herself and half to
No human had ever seen an adult giant squid alive, and though
they had eyes as big as apples to scope the dark of the ocean, theirs
was a solitude so profound they might never encounter another of
their tribe. The melancholy of this situation washed over Sai.
Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she
decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and
fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the
anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself.
______ The water boiled and the cook lifted the kettle and emptied it into the
“Terrible,” he said. “My bones ache so badly, my joints hurt—I
may as well be dead. If not for Biju….’ Biju was his son in America.
He worked at Don Polio—or was it The Hot Tomato? Or Ali Baba’s
Fried Chicken? His father could not remember or understand or
pronounce the names, and Biju changed jobs so often, like a fugitive
on the run—no papers.
“Yes, it’s so foggy,” Sai said. “I don’t think the tutor will come.”
She jigsawed the cups, saucers, teapot, milk, sugar, strainer, Marie
and Delite biscuits all to fit upon the tray.
“I’ll take it,” she offered.
“Careful, careful,” he said scoldingly, following with an enamel
basin of milk for Mutt. Seeing Sai swim forth, spoons making a jittery
music upon the warped sheet of tin, Mutt raised her head. “Teatime?”
said her eyes as her tail came alive.
“Why is there nothing to eat?” the judge asked, irritated, lifting his
nose from a muddle of pawns in the center of the chessboard.
He looked, then, at the sugar in the pot: dirty, micalike glinting
granules. The biscuits looked like cardboard and there were dark
finger marks on the white of the saucers. Never ever was the tea
served the way it should be, but he demanded at least a cake or
scones, macaroons or cheese straws. Something sweet and something
salty. This was a travesty and it undid the very concept of teatime.
“Only biscuits,” said Sai to his expression. “The baker left for his
“I don’t want biscuits.”
“How dare he go for a wedding? Is that the way to run a business?
The fool. Why can’t the cook make something?”
“There’s no more gas, no kerosene.”
“Why the hell can’t he make it over wood? All these old cooks can
make cakes perfectly fine by building coals around a tin box. You
think they used to have gas stoves, kerosene stoves, before? Just too
The cook came hurrying out with the leftover chocolate pudding
warmed on the fire in a frying pan, and the judge ate the lovely brown puddle and gradually his face took on an expression of
grudging pudding contentment.
They sipped and ate, all of existence passed over by nonexistence,
the gate leading nowhere, and they watched the tea spill copious
ribbony curls of vapor, watched their breath join the mist slowly
twisting and turning, twisting and turning.
Nobody noticed the boys creeping across the grass, not even Mutt,
until they were practically up the steps. Not that it mattered, for there
were no latches to keep them out and nobody within calling distance
except Uncle Potty on the other side of the jhora ravine, who would
be drunk on the floor by this hour, lying still but feeling himself pitch
about—”Don’t mind me, love,” he always told Sai after a drinking
bout, opening one eye like an owl, “I’ll just lie down right here and
take a little rest—”
They had come through the forest on foot, in leather jackets from
the Kathmandu black market, khaki pants, bandanasuniversal
guerilla fashion. One of the boys carried a gun.
Later reports accused China, Pakistan, and Nepal, but in this part
of the world, as in any other, there were enough weapons floating
around for an impoverished movement with a ragtag army. They were
looking for anything they could find—kukri sickles, axes, kitchen
knives, spades, any kind of firearm.
They had come for the judge’s hunting rifles.
Despite their mission and their clothes, they were unconvincing.
The oldest of them looked under twenty, and at one yelp from Mutt,
they screamed like a bunch of schoolgirls, retreated down the steps to
cower behind the bushes blurred by mist. “Does she bite, Uncle? My
God!”— shivering there in their camouflage.
Mutt began to do what she always did when she met strangers: she
turned a furiously wagging bottom to the intruders and looked around
from behind, smiling, conveying both shyness and hope.
Hating to see her degrade herself thus, the judge reached for her,
whereupon she buried her nose in his arms.
The boys came back up the steps, embarrassed, and the judge
became conscious of the fact that this embarrassment was dangerous for had the boys projected unwavering confidence, they might have
been less inclined to flex their muscles.
The one with the rifle said something the judge could not
“No Nepali?” he spat, his lips sneering to show what he thought of
that, but he continued in Hindi. “Guns?”
“We have no guns here.”
“You must be misinformed.”
“Never mind with all this nakhra. Get them.”
“I order you,” said the judge, “to leave my property at once.”
“Bring the weapons.”
“I will call the police.”
This was a ridiculous threat as there was no telephone.
They laughed a movie laugh, and then, also as if in a movie, the
boy with the rifle pointed his gun at Mutt. “Go on, get them, or we
will kill the dog first and you second, cook third, ladies last,” he said,
smiling at Sai.
“I’ll get them,” she said in terror and overturned the tea tray as she
The judge sat with Mutt in his lap. The guns dated from his days in
the Indian Civil Service. A BSA five-shot barrel pump gun, a.30
Springfield rifle, and a double-barreled rifle, Holland & Holland. They
weren’t even locked away: they were mounted at the end of the hall
above a dusty row of painted green and brown duck decoys.
“Chtch, all rusted. Why don’t you take care of them?” But they
were pleased and their bravado bloomed. “We will join you for tea.”
“Tea?” asked Sai in numb terror.
“Tea and snacks. Is this how you treat guests? Sending us back out
into the cold with nothing to warm us up.” They looked at one
another, at her, looked up, down, and winked.
She felt intensely, fearfully female.
Of course, all the boys were familiar with movie scenes where hero
and heroine, befeathered in cosy winterwear, drank tea served in
silver tea sets by polished servants. Then the mist would roll in, just as
it did in reality, and they sang and danced, playing peekaboo in a nice
resort hotel. This was classic cinema set in Kulu-Manali or, in preterrorist days, Kashmir, before gunmen came bounding out of the
mist and a new kind of film had to be made.
The cook was hiding under the dining table and they dragged him
“Ai aaa, ai aaa” he joined his palms together, begging them,
“please, I’m a poor man, please.” He held up his arms and cringed as
if from an expected blow.
“He hasn’t done anything, leave him,” said Sai, hating to see him
humiliated, hating even more to see that the only path open to him
was to humiliate himself further.
“Please living only to see my son please don’t kill me please I’m a
poor man spare me.”
His lines had been honed over centuries, passed down through
generations, for poor people needed certain lines; the script was
always the same, and they had no option but to beg for mercy. The
cook knew instinctively how to cry.
These familiar lines allowed the boys to ease still further into their
role, which he had handed to them like a gi...
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