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Sunday, May 20, 2007


Novels: Old and New - V.S. Naipaul * Kiran Desai

A blogger friend recently commented about V.S. Naipul's A House for Mr. Biswas and how touched she was by the book. A great novel. I read it decades ago when I lived in India. Naipul's novel, published in 1961, about Mohun Biswas, a man of Indian origin living in Trinidad (under British rule then), had a mixed effect. It grasped my attention and, at the end. left me feeling depressed.

Finished reading Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss a few days ago. Desai's book took me back to the India I knew. Although the story took place in the 80's, long after I left for the United States, it revived memories. The characters and scenes in her book were just as I remembered people and events from my past.

The Inheritance of Loss won the prestigious Man-Booker Prize in 2006. Only citizens of Britain and the Commonwealth are eligible for the prize, and reproduced below is an anecdote about Desai posted in my blog after announcement of her win.

November 13, 2006

Citizenship in Bush's America

I get the feeling that here in the Silicon Valley a majority of the Indians are likely to be supporters of President Bush and the Republicans. Kiran Desai is not a resident of California. It was interesting to read comments by this year's Booker Prize winner -- that she put off going through the citizenship process because of her "disapproval of the president's foreign policy". Perhaps an extreme view but understandable. I love my adopted country. There are times though when I am not proud of what our government does.

By Martin Roberts Wed Nov 8, 12:31 PM ET

Indian novelist Kiran Desai said she may never have won the Booker Prize, one of the world's most prestigious literary awards, had George W. Bush not been U.S. president - as he put her off becoming an American citizen.

The Man Booker Prize is open only to British and Commonwealth citizens and Indian-born Desai has yet to apply for a U.S. passport, although she has lived in New York for 20 years.

"George Bush won once and he won the second time and I couldn't bring myself to (apply)," Desai said late last month in an interview in Toronto as she voiced her disapproval of the president's foreign policy.

"So I really owe George Bush my Booker, in an odd way. It's really very funny."

Desai, 35, became the youngest woman to capture the 50,000 pound ($95,000) prize last month with her sweeping novel "The Inheritance of Loss." The book's narrative ranges from undocumented workers in New York to political violence in the foothills of the Himalayas during the 1980s.

The novelist divides her time between New York and New Delhi, and while she finds traveling difficult on an Indian passport, she said it helped her maintain an essential contact with her roots while penning her prize-winning book.

"I couldn't have written this book without being interested (in India), I felt very Indian while writing it," she said.

"With politics in the United States, my immediate thought is how is this going to affect India or the Third World, who are they letting into the country, who they happen to be bombing."

But Desai is quick to point out that her book deals with an underclass that is exploited in rich and poor countries alike.

Applause and a bouquet for Kiran Desai.

The Inheritance of Loss is one of the nominees for the 2007 Orange Prize. Desai's previous book Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, published 1998, received good reviews.

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