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Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss and the Troubled Symbolic Production of a Man Booker Prize Winner

  • Daniel Allington
Chapter
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Abstract

Kiran Desai’s second novel, The Inheritance of Loss, was published by Penguin subsidiaries in India and North America in January 2006, and seven months later in the UK by Hamish Hamilton, a Penguin imprint. That same year, it won the Man Booker Prize, the UK’s most prestigious literary award, as well as the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award, one of the three most prestigious literary prizes in the USA. However, the book also became subject to protests in the Indian town in which it was partly set. These events provide an ideal opportunity for scholars to do what Sarah Brouillette argues they have too rarely done, and examine ‘the specific interconnections between the content of literary work and the circuits through which texts pass as they are produced and consumed’.1 In this chapter, I shall therefore focus on selected episodes from the novel’s production and reception in order to provide a rich picture of its place in the global cultural economy, and to attempt to understand the complex and conflicted position into which a literary novel positioned as ‘Indian’ must enter if it is to be accepted by the readers for whom such novels are, to use Pierre Bourdieu’s phrase, ‘objectively destined’.2

Keywords

Hedge Fund Shadow Economy Publisher Weekly Global Literary India Today 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Sarah Brouillette (2007) Postcolonial Writers in the Global Literary Marketplace, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 176–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Pierre Bourdieu (1993) ‘The production of belief: Contribution to an economy of symbolic goods’, in The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, trans. Richard Nice, Cambridge: Polity Press, p. 115.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bourdieu, ‘The production of belief’; for a detailed analysis of cultural prizes, see James F. English (2005) The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    For literature review and further discussion, see Daniel Allington (2011) ‘“It actually painted a picture of the village and the sea and the bottom of the sea”: Reading groups, cultural legitimacy, and “description” in narrative (with particular reference to John Steinbeck’s The Pearl)’, Language and Literature, 20: 317–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Salman Rushdie (1997) ‘Introduction’, in Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth West (eds), Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing 1947–1997, London: Vintage, p. xii.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For discussion, see David Johnson (2012) ‘English literary canons’, in Ann Hewings and Caroline Tagg (eds) The Politics of English: Conflict, Competition, Co-existence, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 179–206; Daniel Allington, ‘English and global media’, in Hewings and Tagg, The Politics of English, pp. 219–245.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Luke Strongman (2002) The Booker Prize and the Legacy of Empire, Cross / Cultures, 54, Amsterdam: Rodopi, p. 237.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Claire Squires (2012) ‘Too much Rushdie, not enough romance? The UK publishing industry and BME (black minority ethnic) readership’, in Bethan Benwell, James Procter and Gemma Robinson (eds), Postcolonial Audiences: Readers, Viewers, and Reception, New York: Routledge, p. 100.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Miha Kovač and Rudiger Wischenbart, Diversity Report 2010: Literary Translation in Current European Book Markets. An Analysis of Authors, Languages, and Flows, http://www.wischenbart.com/upload/Diversity-Report_2010.pdf (accessed June 2014).Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Paul Delany (2002) Literature, Money, and the Market: From Trollope to Amis, Houndmills: Palgrave, p. 187; Brouillette, Postcolonial Writers in the Global Literary Marketplace, p. 83.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    See Pooja Sinha (2013) Contemporary Indian English Genre Fiction: Conventions and Contexts in the Marketplace, unpublished thesis, Open University.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    This concept was proposed by Joseph S. Nye (2004) Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    Salman Rushdie (1991) ‘In good faith’, in Imaginary Homelands:Essays and Criticism, 1981–1991, London: Granta, p. 394).Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    Praise from Rushdie was used in marketing Ali and Smith’s first novels; an extract from Desai’s was anthologized in Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth West (1997) Mirrorword: 50 Years of Indian Writing 1947–1997, New York: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  15. 22.
    Rashmi Sadana (2012) English Heart, Hindi Heartland: The Political Life of Literature in India, Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 162.Google Scholar
  16. 25.
    Kiran Desai (2007) The Inheritance of Loss, Harmondsworth: Penguin, p. 205.Google Scholar
  17. 41.
    For more on the different evaluative criteria applied to popular fiction and ‘serious’ literature, see Daniel Allington (2011) ‘Distinction, intentions, and the consumption of fiction: Negotiating cultural legitimacy in a gay reading group’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 14: 137–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 55.
    For analysis of the production and reception of this work, see Sarah Brouillette (2009) ‘Literature and gentrification on Brick Lane’, Criticism, 51: 425–449;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. also Bethan Benwell, James Procter and Gemma Robinson (2011) ‘Not reading Brick Lane’, New Formations, 73: 90–116, who discuss the abandoned burning of the book on p. 100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 58.
    David Curtis (2003) ‘Letter to the Guardian’, 6 December, http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2003/dec/06/guardianletters3 (accessed June 2014).Google Scholar

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© Daniel Allington 2014

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  • Daniel Allington

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