Finding substance in a sense of loss

Title: The Inheritance of Loss

Title: The Inheritance of Loss

Author: Kiran Desai

Publisher: Penguin Books

Reviewer: Namhla Tshisela

This is Booker Prize-winner Kiran Desai's critically acclaimed second novel.

It spans two continents and four central characters: three living a secluded life in a mansion in the Himalayas and one hustling in America.

Former chief justice Jemubhai Patel is lord of the manor, which he shares with his cook and granddaughter.

He is ashamed of who he is and is still scarred by his stint in racist England as a young man, which resulted in an obsession with afternoon tea and scented face powder to hide his dark complexion and "Indian smell".

He also suppresses a cruel and violent history which manifests in the way he treats some of his poorer neighbours, his granddaughter and servant. The only creature worthy of his love is Mutt, his spoilt dog. He resents living with his orphaned granddaughter, Sai. Lonely and devoid of her grandfather's love, Sai falls in love with the only person from the "outside" to show her any attention, her young tutor.

Their relationship is not rosy. He regards her a snob and thinks, rightly so, that she is out of touch with life in the village. She is ostracised because she speaks English better than her mother tongue.

The cook is the most adorable character in the novel. The widower is undermined in the household because of his social standing. His only highlight is receiving a letter from his son, living illegally in America.

Humour and remarkable characters make for an enjoyable and thought-provoking novel.