The novel begins when the house of a retired judge is robbed by
members of a separatist Nepali insurgent group — the GNLF (GorhkaNational Liberation Front). This robbery is actually one of the last
events of the plot, chronologically, but the rest of the events are
described after the robbery. Throughout the novel, the book cuts backand forth between the story of Sai, an orphan who lives with the judge
— her grandfather — and his cook; the story of the cook’s son Biju, who
just moved to America; and the story of the judge himself and his initial
trip to England to go to law school in 1969.

Sai was orphaned at a young age by her parents’ deaths, is seventeen
years old, and lives with her grandfather and his cook in the Himalayas,
at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga, in 1986. Her grandfather was once
a respected judge in both the colonial and independent courts, but now
lives a reclusive retirement in a luxurious but decaying mansion, and
Sai receives more attention and love from their cook than from the
judge. Sai arrives at her grandfather’s house when she is eight years
old, educated by nuns at an orphanage in the colonial tradition. Her
grandfather arranges for her to be tutored by a woman named Noni in
the village of Cho Oyu. Noni worries because she believes that Sai will
grow up lonely and unsocialized since she lives alone with two old men.

Noni lives with her sister Lola, whose daughter Pixie is a BBC reporter,
and both old women take frequent trips to England, returning with
packets of British food and stories about British superiority. When Saiis sixteen and her abilities in math and physics grow beyond Noni’s, she
begins taking lessons with Gyan, a recent university graduate and a
Nepali. They fall in love quickly and become deeply involved in their

The cook’s son, Biju, lives in New York City and works a series of lowpayingmenial restaurant jobs, finding it impossible to gain entrance to
American social networks or to adjust to American culture. He sends
letters home to his father, which the cook interprets as evidence of his
son’s great success, and shows to all of his neighbors, relatives, and
friends. He sends his son countless requests from the neighborsasking for his help in sending their own relatives to the US, and for his
help once they arrive, but Biju can barely take care of himself and
constantly avoids these requests. Biju is miserable in the US, as he
struggles to navigate American racism, and also to cope with his own
racism towards the other immigrants who work in the kitchens with
him. He suffers the misunderstandings and abuse of his American
employers, one of whom even buys him soap and deodorant to cover
up his unpleasant “smell.” Biju finally decides that he cannot work in a
restaurant that cooks beef, and finds a job in a Hindu-run Indian
restaurant; this job is relatively pleasant, aside from the fact that he
earns low wages and has to sleep in the kitchen. Here, though, he falls
in the kitchen and hurts his leg, and his employer will not pay his
medical bills.

The judge, Jemu, is sent to England in 1969 to study law and follow in
the footsteps of his father, a local judge. His story, told out of
chronological order, is intercut with the present-day action of the novel.

He is twenty years old and leaves behind his fourteen-year-old wife —
they have spent almost no time together and never met before their
wedding day. She was offered in marriage by her low-caste but
extraordinarily rich father, who saw her husband’s eventual legal career
as a way to raise their family status. England is unwelcoming as the
English are blatantly racist, and Jemu spends long hours studying,
avoiding interacting with other people as much as he can. When he
qualifies for the ICS he is sent far from his home to become a colonial
judge in the civil service, where he tours to hear cases. The cook begins
working for him at this time, mainly because he knows how to make
hundreds of different kinds of desserts. Jemu’s wife finally comes to
join him, but he finds her revolting because of her lack of education —
he totally ignores her, and she is sequestered in the house alone most
of the time. When a political rival takes his ignorant wife to a rally to
meet Nehru in order to humiliate the judge, he beats her savagely, and
finally sends her away. She gives birth to their daughter — Sai’s mother
— in her family’s house, but the judge does not allow her to return, and
he never meets his daughter. Later on, she dies when her sari catches
on fire on the stove — the accident is most likely a murder by her
brother-in-law, who is tired of paying for her living expenses.

News of the Nepali insurgency begins to spread, affecting all of the
characters’ lives. Gyan begins to listen to his friends’ revolutionary
rhetoric, and his dawning awareness of Sai’s privilege compared to the
Nepali peasantry begins to poison his feelings for her. He falls in with
the GNLF and finally tells them about the judge’s stash of weapons.

One afternoon, as Sai notices that Gyan is late for their lesson, a group
of young boys from the GLNF arrives and robs their house of food,
liquor, and a few aging and rusted guns. The police give the robbery a
cursory investigation, but uncover nothing. The judge, the cook, and all
of their neighbors begin to fear the growing power of the GNLF and the
effects that the Nepali insurgents will come to have on their lives.

Gyan feels guilty about this but will not admit it to himself — he avoids
Sai and walks away from their relationship. She follows him to his
house and sees for the first time the poverty that he lives in, but she is
embarrassed and confronts him about the robbery. Gyan spurns her
and Sai runs away, heartbroken. The GNLF begin to squat on Lola and
Noni’s property, intimidating the women. The police beat a local drunk
and accuse him of robbing the judge’s house, blinding him in the
process. In retribution, the unjustly accused man steals the judge’s
beloved purebred dog “Mutt,” and the judge threatens to kill the cook
for letting him be stolen, finally beating him brutally. In order to make
up for his betrayal of Sai, Gyan promises the cook that he will find Mutt,
but he has not found the dog by the end of the novel.

Biju hears about the violence but cannot reach his father — he finally
decides, against all of his friends’ advice, to return to India and his
father with his savings. Since the insurgency has closed the roads, he
pays for a ride with the GNLF, but they rob him of all of his family’s
gifts, his entire savings, and even his clothes. He arrives at his father’s
house with nothing but a stolen women’s bathrobe, but his father is still
elated to see him.