Treading Two Worlds

The literary world is abuzz over Kiran Desai, 35, bagging the prestigious Man Booker prize for her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss, becoming the youngest woman to ever do so. Her mother, the acclaimed author Anita Desai, had been nominated thrice for the Booker, so her daughter’s victory must have been particularly sweet.


“This book was written almost entirely in her company, along with of course, you know, her writing wisdom and growing up in a house full of her books and learning how to live the writing life alongside her,” said Kiran Desai in a radio interview. “But in terms of what the book was about, I think she’s the only person who could really understand what I was trying to do. I really couldn’t have written it without her.”

While her mother’s novels have been largely rooted in India, in this novel Kiran Desai shifts between two continents, reflecting her own life in two places. She was born in Chandigarh and grew up in Bombay, Delhi and Poona, and left for the UK and then the United States when she was 14. She grew up in Boston, Mass., before attending Bennington College and Columbia University, where she studied creative writing

Asked where home was, she laughed: “It’s funny. I catch myself using the word home for different places, so I know it’s not one place anymore. It’s so many different places. I have a life in many different cities now, and two different countries.”

She added, “That’s the wonderful thing about these days. The world is growing smaller. I see the value of both places and at other times I do feel torn as if I’m missing something, I’m missing knowing one culture deeply and profoundly because this does mean you are an outsider to some degree in both places, I think. You are leaving, and you’re constantly on the plane, so your perspective does change.” 


While her first novel was set entirely in India, at that time Desai had told this reporter: “I do think though we shouldn’t be afraid of writing about America, it is also a part of our life and I do feel it’s new territory.  I do hope I write an American book at some time. It is important because it’s our experience and I’m eager to do that. because I do feel I want to examine my idea of America as well as my idea of India.”

Indeed, in this novel Desai moves with ease between two countries, catching the entangled lives of Sai, the judge, the cook, an assortment of colonial leftovers and insurgents on the boil in the foothills of the Himalayas, and that of Biju, the cook’s son, who is an illegal immigrant in New York City, living in rat-infested holes in the wall and merging into the rhythms of this city of immigrants. Both worlds are imaginary, yet very real. 

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