National Book Critics Circle, Fiction, 2007
Man Booker Prize, Fiction, 2007
At the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered old judge who wants nothing more than to retire in peace. But this is far from easy with the arrival of his orphaned granddaughter Sai, come to live with him and his chatty cook. Biju, the cook's son, is trying to make his way in the US, flitting between a succession of grubby kitchen jobs to stay one step ahead of the immigration services.Unbeknown to any of them, a Nepalese insurgency threatens Kalimpong, impacting Sai's blossoming romance, and causing the judge to revisit his past and his role in this grasping world of conflicting desires.
©2006 Kiran Desai; (P)2007 Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.
"Briskly paced and sumptuously written." (The New Yorker)
"Desai imaginatively dramatizes the wonders and tragedies of Himalayan life and, by extension, the fragility of peace and elusiveness of justice, albeit with her own powerful blend of tenderness and wit." (Booklist)
"In this alternately comical and contemplative novel, Desai deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating the pain of exile, the ambiguities of post-colonialism and the blinding desire for a 'better life', when one person's wealth means another's poverty." (Publishers Weekly)
While the writing is rich and often wonderful, the grim world view of Desai's tale weighs on the listener. There is much to ponder on the despairing gap between the haves and the have nots, and the view of the immigrant's life is searing and unforgettable.
But in listening, some of the beauty and complexity of the written word is lost, despite the talents of the narrator, who grew on me. What a crippled and woe-be-gone cast of characters, and what a sad and harsh hand they are dealt. Biju's helpless tumble is almost unbearable. Desai tosses us one crumb of hope at the end but I was numb at that point.
Five stars for the book and five stars for the reader. The book is one of the best works of fiction I've listened to in a long time. The reader contributes much to giving the listener the feeling of being there by her use of a different accent for each character.
The reading of this book is absolutely marvelous - many accents come in quick succession and are completely believable. At first the story is amusing; later it becomes truly tragic, and paints an accurate picture of major problems in India, and for Indians.
As an Asian immigrant myself who grew up most of his life in London and went to University there, I immediately connected with the story and the old judge. I now live in the USA and the story of Biju struggling to earn his keep seems so real in so many ways for new migrants. There are so many beautiful and colorful characters in this story each with their own wonderful tales and I was totally lost in nostalgia for the old “Raj”. The English certainly left an indelible mark in India and post-independent India never recovered. In one sense, this is the story of moving-on and yet it is also the story of longing for the old ways. The vocal delivery is absolutely top-notch in this release. I loved this book and it should not be missed!
This is by far one of the most wonderful listening experiences I've had in a long time. Meera Simhan's narration was outstanding, and Kiran Desai's story was excellent. I want to start at the beginning and listen all over again. The characters are varied and fascinating, the historical events are woven into the story beautifully, the imagery of the geographical area of Kalimpong is stunning, and the internal lives of the characters are drawn with such finesse that this book is compelling and nuanced. Bravo to Kiran Desai and Meera Simhan.
Lots of insight into modern India and it's connections to the US and Europe in the post-colonial world. Very interesting in this moment of hysteria over illegal immigration, but I wish it had a clearer plot. I'm glad to have heard it, but I'm gladder it's over.
There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away Nor any Coursers like a Page Of prancing Poetry – Emily Dickinson
Although I loved the writing of Kiran Desai, I couldn’t really love the novel as a whole. Something was missing. The descriptions, the characters, and the overall theme were great, but somehow the sum of the parts didn’t add up in the end to a compelling read. The beautiful writing made it worthwhile and enjoyable anyway, which is a real tribute to the author’s skill.
The book had an overreaching message about India and how colonialism had messed everyone up. The effects were far reaching, and almost every character in the novel is changed by it. Characters such as the judge have had all the supposed privileges of the English upper class, but they turn out to be miserable, unhappy, and immoral. And after colonialism comes, what? globalization ? or the desire to go to America or become like an American. That turns out to be a sterile and fruitless dream that also messes up many characters’ lives.
The author’s descriptions were so beautiful and evocative at times. The mountain near Kalimpong with its mist, beauty, and tranquility stood in harsh contrast to the sad and difficult lives of many of the characters. The mountain forms a backdrop for the novel, and it seems meaningful that the last scene takes place as the mountain “…appeared above the parting clouds, as it did only very early in the morning during this season…The five peaks of Kanchenjunga turned golden with the kind of luminous light that made you feel, if briefly, that truth was apparent… All you needed to do was to reach out and pluck it. “ That truth is love, as symbolized by the two characters who are finally reunited in the end. Despite all the ugliness, sadness, and loss, this truth – love - remains. It was a beautiful book.
This profile is under my husband's name since Audible merged with Amazon. So just call me Bob. Or wife of Bob. Or the reader in the family. Whatever.
This was a difficult story to hear, but moving and enlightening. The characters are mercilessly exposed. If you are interested in Indian culture and not afraid to have your prejudices poked a bit....
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