Boyd Tonkin: An endearing view of globalisation

Related Topics

'The Inheritance of Loss' is a book about tradition and modernity, the past and the future - and about the surprising ways both amusing and sorrowful, in which they all connect. As with the novel, so with the decision of the Man Booker jury. From one angle, Kiran Desai's award looks like a bold, even a revolutionary choice. Split in its setting between the high Himalayas and the basement kitchens of Manhattan, the novel's global sweep and reach captivated the judges to make Desai the youngest ever female winner of this prize. Still only 35, she had until this book only published a charming but much more limited debut. Few Booker winners can ever have plunged so energetically into the movement and muddle of Manhattan life, as the cook's son, Biju, hops between cheap eateries in search of that ever-illusive Green Card. We have sometimes been told that this prize's sponsor hankers after a competition that would allow an American victor. Well, in the raucous, darkly comic desperation of Desai's New York "illegals", they have got halfway there.

Her isolated highland India, too, no longer casts one eye on Delhi and the other on London. Even though most of the plot unfolds in the late 1980s, Desai shrewdly captures the birth-pangs of a truly globalised nation. In the crumbling, damp house where the judge and his grand-daughter uneasily co-exist, nostalgia is buffeted by the winds of change.

And yet: from another point of view, this novel represents an absolutely classic Booker selection. Remember that the prize leapt into the international limelight in 1981, with the triumph of 'Midnight's Children' by the almost unknown Salman Rushdie. Kiran Desai would surely accept that 'The Inheritance of Loss', for all its individual sparkle and originality, is nothing if not a post-Rushdie novel.

Since then, the award has often favoured books that embody in their form and style the creative collision of English-language fiction with an explosive, post-colonial world. From Peter Carey to Ben Okri to Arundhati Roy, this has become an honour for stories of cultural transitions and migrations on a globalising planet. In this light, Desai's victory seemed like a mainstream choice. This is an affecting and endearing novel, full of laughter and of tears: Professor Hermione Lee praised it for its unique "depth of humanity". It comes right from the heartlands of the Booker's artistic terrain. So perhaps it's apt that Desai has succeeded at her first attempt on a prize that has short-listed her mother Anita's work three times. This is a strong and justifiable choice, and one that a wide variety of readers should enjoy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little