“the rain came through a leak in the roof and transformed the figures in our family photograph album into ghosts”

The Guardian Book Club interviews Kiran Desai on her novel The Inheritance of Loss, published, Friday, November 13, 2009

In India this fact of being sustained by poverty came with the sunrise: it was in everything we ate, everything we wore and touched, and I knew the greater part of what I glimpsed in New York was continuing on the other side of the world. Knowing this, and remembering the advertising that you see in remote Indian villages – “Welcome to USA” “Welcome to UK” – recruiting nurses or cruise ship workers, I couldn’t ignore this in my writing. But no sooner did I decide to expand my novel thus than it became obvious that I should also include those migrations made long ago that had ensured that some of us would never again be able to find a place in our own landscape. And there were, of course, some whose sense of dislocation didn’t even involve the rest of the world: the rift had been so deeply absorbed that they were rendered foreigners in their own country, reading Jane Austen to feel cosy…

…But as I wrote The Inheritance of Loss, I began the process of considering that one’s place in the world might be merely incidental, just a matter of perspective. Perhaps the centre was not firm at all? And as I wrote I became aware of the rich novelistic moments that come from many stories overlapping, from this moral ambiguity, and from the utter uselessness of the flag. Even the past – home of sorts to all of us – wasn’t fixed. History is only someone’s story. I felt as if I were writing to displace myself, and to know that my story wasn’t the only one – that there would always be other books on the shelf.

Read more


Image from New York Social Diary

February 22, 2006, Volume VI, Number 32


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