The Inheritance of Loss

The Inheritance of Loss

The Inheritance of Loss Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Kiran Desai

Kiran Desai was born in 1971 in India to another author, Anita Desai. Kiran left India at 14 years old, moving to England with her mother for a year before landing in the United States. She remained in the U.S. for her secondary education, studying creative writing at Bennington College. She later earned two M.F.A.’s—one from Hollins University and another from Columbia University. Her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, was published in 1998 and received high praise and numerous awards. While working on her second novel, Desai spent various amounts of time in New York, Mexico, and India. The Inheritance of Loss was published in 2006 and won the Man Booker Prize that year. Her third novel is currently in progress.
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Historical Context of The Inheritance of Loss

The Inheritance of Loss requires background information on two major historical movements in India. The first is British colonial rule in India and eventual Indian independence. At the end of the 16th century, the British aimed to challenge the Portuguese monopoly of trade with Asia. The British East India Company was chartered to carry on the spice trade. In the mid-18th century, the British forces, whose duty until then consisted of protecting Company property, teamed up with the commander in chief of the Bengali army, Mir Jafar, to overthrow the leader of Bengal. Jafar was then installed on the throne as a British subservient ruler. The British then realized their strength and potential for conquering smaller Indian kingdoms, and by the mid-19th century, they had gained direct or indirect control over all of present-day India. In 1857, the Indian Rebellion of 1857 took place in an attempt to resist the company’s control of India. The British defeated the rebellion, and the British crown formally took over India and it came under direct British rule and the Indian Civil Service (ICS). The ICS was originally headed by British state officials, but these were gradually replaced by Indian officials in order to appease the public. In the ensuing decades, a reform movement slowly developed into the Indian Independence movement, which was popularized by Mahatma Ghandi and the Indian National Congress Party in the 1920s. In 1947, the British granted Indian Independence, partitioning British India into India and Pakistan. Jawaharlal Nehru of the Indian National Congress became the first Prime Minister of India after Independence. The second political movement backgrounding the novel is the Gorkhaland movement. After the British granted India independence in 1947, they drew India’s border in Darjeeling such that many Nepali people were now in India. In the 1980s, Subhash Ghisingh began a movement calling for the creation of a state called Gorkhaland within India, separate from the existing Indian state of West Bengal. A violent movement was created in 1986 called the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which creates much of the political conflict of Desai’s novel. Various strikes and protests led to the deaths of over 1,200 people. A particularly bloody conflict on July 27, 1986, serves as one of the book’s climactic scenes.

Other Books Related to The Inheritance of Loss

One of Desai’s biggest literary predecessors and influences in this genre is V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River. Early in The Inheritance of Loss, two of the characters discuss this book, which tells the story of post-colonial, traditionalist Africa encountering the modern world through an Indian merchant. In The Inheritance of Loss, the characters criticize the author for being stuck in the past and not progressing past “colonial neurosis.” In The Inheritance of Loss, Desai attempts to push past these perceived lacks in A Bend in the River by demonstrating how colonialism has transformed into a more discrete but sometimes equally as harmful form of oppression and bias against Eastern countries through globalization.
Key Facts about The Inheritance of Loss
  • Full Title: The Inheritance of Loss
  • When Written: 1998-2006
  • Where Written: New York, Mexico, India
  • When Published: 2006
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical fiction, drama
  • Setting: Kalimpong, India and New York City in the 1980s; various locations in India and England in the 1940s-1980s
  • Climax: Biju returns to Cho Oyu
  • Antagonist: Colonialism, the GNLF, the police
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Inheritance of Loss

Literary legacy. Kiran Desai’s mother, Anita Desai, was also an author and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize three times, but never won. When Kiran won the award, she became the youngest woman to do so, at 35 years old.

Family ties. Many of the book’s characters draw from Desai’s own family and life. Like the judge, Desai’s paternal grandfather journeyed from India to Cambridge University as a penniless student before becoming a civil service judge. Like Sai, Desai herself had attended a convent school in Kalimpong, and had a cook that she loved when she was growing up.