Craft, so goes the general notion, is something that gets better with age. One can only wonder where experience will take this year’s Man Booker Prize winner, Kiran Desai, in her future as a writer. Her novel, The Inheritance of Loss, for which she won the coveted award, is a quiet, tonal portrait of human hopes and betrayals. Above all, it is a well-tempered, nuanced story that mixes the tragic and the comic in one indistinguishable form. Like her 1998 book, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, her latest novel, too, works on more than one level for the reader. While readers can detect in Desai’s novel a creative investigation into the twin concepts of exile and immigration — an established romping ground for most Indian diasporic writers — she is also writing about individuals with their own stories.
A retired man who re-stumbles onto his own ‘grandfather-ness’ is as much in need of recovering his balance as his orphaned grand-daughter and her precarious desires. It would be easy — too easy, perhaps — to see Desai’s winning the Booker as yet another tip of the hat to ‘diasporiana’. But that would be reading The Inheritance of Loss with one’s nose too close to its pages.
Desai winning the Booker also points to the continuing revival of importance given to the crafted novel by the arbiters of literary achievement in the West. While verbal flamboyance and imagists’ fireworks enjoyed their place in the sun of earlier Bookers — and Anglo-Saxon literary taste — of late, crafted, rather than crafty, literature is now being applauded once again. One can say with quiet certainty that it is on this path that we will be following Kiran Desai’s literary trajectory in the years to come.