Negotiating Cultural Identity in The Inheritance of Loss


Author: Chiou-Rung Deng, Tamkang University, Taiwan
Published: December 15, 2021

Citation: Deng, C.-R. (2021). Negotiating Cultural Identity in The Inheritance of Loss. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 10(2).


This paper seeks to explore three modes of cultural identification presented in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. With three intersecting plotlines, the novel focuses on three divergent modes of cultural identification in different spatio-temporal contexts. The first kind of cultural identification is imbued with a sense of foreignness, exemplified by the judge, Jemubhai, whose cultural identity is deeply shaped by imperialist ideology during British colonization of India. As Indian culture is negated by the colonial power, Jemubhai adheres to English cultural identification and disavows his Indianness. The second mode of cultural identification revolves around the issue of cultural authenticity in the diasporic context for Biju, a young migrant, illegal worker in various restaurants in New York. To survive in a foreign country, Biju forces himself to transgress cultural borders, which disconcerts Biju and further prompts him to pursue cultural authenticity. The third mode highlights Sai’s and Gyan’s trajectories of cultural identification. Just as Sai, Jemubhai’s granddaughter, embodies the idea of in-betweenness, Gyan, Sai’s math tutor, manifests the desire to escape narrow nationalism. Both Sai and Gyan evoke the potential of crossing borders. Juxtaposing the three modes of cultural identification, Desai’s novel explores the process of negotiating cultural identity and gestures towards a field of border-crossing identity.


authenticity, cultural identity, foreignness, Kiran Desai, in-betweenness, The Inheritance of Loss