Kiran Desai

Holtzbrinck Fellow - Class of Fall 2013

Writer, Cold Spring, New York

American Academy Project: The Loneliness of Sonia and Sunny
Current Location: New York


Kiran Desai was born in Chandigarh, India, and educated in India, England, and the United States, completing an MFA at Columbia University in 1999. Her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, received the 1998 Betty Trask Award for being one of the best new novels by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations under the age of 35. In her 2006 novel, The Inheritance of Loss, Desai recreated busy, intersecting tales of immigrants meeting for the first time in the basement kitchens of New York, contrasting their stories with the landscapes left behind. The Inheritance of Loss won the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was translated into over forty languages. Two years later, the Gates Foundation project invited Desai to report on a community of sex workers in the coastal state of Andhra Pradesh. Her account, “Night Claims the Godavari,” was included in AIDS Sutra: Untold Stories from India (Anchor, 2008). In 2009, she was presented with the Columbia University Medal for Excellence. The recipient of a 2013-14 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, Desai’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Guardian, Gourmet Magazine, Best American Travel Writing, and The Vintage Book of Indian Writing 1947-1997.

American Academy Project

The Loneliness of Sonia and Sunny

At the Academy, Desai will be working on her new novel, The Loneliness of Sonia and Sunny, under contract with Knopf in the United States, S. Fischer in Germany, and with additional international publishers. The book is “an endlessly unresolved romance between two modern Indians,” Desai writes. “It examines Western and Eastern manifestations of solitude as they play out across the geographical and emotional terrain of our globalized world. Sonia first glimpses Sunny on the train to her grandfather’s funeral. Beguiled by each other, but ashamed to be matched in an old-fashioned manner, they embark upon a series of experiments, across Europe, India, and America, to see if they might succeed in contemporary ways of loving. The story addresses the promise and failure of feminism, the growing gap between rich and poor, rural and urban, the many ways in which modernity affects our spiritual beings in the elemental matters of loneliness and love. As Sonia and Sunny pursue their romance, they find themselves mapping a primal lexicon of the myriad forms of global loneliness.”