Back with a bang! This book took me particularly long to complete as I mentioned in the previous post just because I never had time to read or rather didn’t make that time lol.
Anyway, lets get right into it shall we? This week’s (rather this months, as I don’t know when I’ll be reading my next book…) book review is on Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. Shout out to my pal Mumo who contributed some tidbits to this review as well:)
“Ferociously good. Acutely observed. In exquisitely attuned prose, Lahiri notes the clash between generations… She is emotionally precise about her characters and the way the world appears to them. These are unforgettable people, their stories unforgettably well told.” Oprah gave this strong statement in her monthly magazine about an author who has proved herself time and time again with her riveting literary works.
Jhumpa Lahiri is no stranger to the world of fiction. She has written several books, most of which have earned her worldwide fame and accolades such as the Pulitzer prize for Fiction that she won for her debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies in 2000.
An Indian American born in London and raised in Rhode Island by traditional Bengali Parents, Jhumpa was no ordinary girl. Her parents made sure she was connected to her Indian roots and she uses this upbringing in her writing as most of her stories and perhaps very much like her own, revolve around Bengali families in foreign countries.
Unaccustomed Earthis her second short story collection. These short stories revolve around the elements of race, religion, and love and identity issues as the characters search for a sense of belonging in their different situations. Lahiri’s stories seem linked to her own personal life or at the very least, how different her life could have been, because, as mentioned above, she is of Bengali descent and raised in the United States by her Bengali parents and throughout her stories you can see this underlying theme repeated with seamless precision. She seems to want to tell her story to the world through different and random characters who at the end of it all gravitate towards a truth that perhaps she herself has found in her own life: The truth that home does not necessarily have to be where you were born and that home is actually the place that allows you to fully find yourself. This place is not necessarily tied to a particular spot on a world map, or to your past or indeed to your future.
The eight stories within the book all have Bengali American characters as the lead/narrator throughout the story, showing their different lives in America as compared to that of their parents back in Calcutta. Lahiri expertly portrays how the characters mature within their new environments but are not exempted from the many uncontrollable events that can happen to any human being such as tragic accidents, failed love affairs, alcoholism, addiction, broken marriages etc. The stories though supposedly ‘short’ can take you more than hour to read yet it will feel like a couple of minutes flew by, perhaps this is what makes Unaccustomed Earth one of those books you never want to put down. One story ends just as another begins barely giving you enough time to reflect and digest on the last one but one never seems to forget it either because the characters all seem familiar to you, as if it could be your story told from the eyes of someone who knows you very well
My favorite story, ‘Only Goodness’ is one that follows a small family of four. Sudha, the narrator, is the older, more accomplished sister to her younger brother Rahul who is an alcoholic incapable of making something out of his life. Sudha feels responsible for the unfortunate turn his life took while in college as she would engage his drinking while he was still underage. Her parents depended on her to deal with her brother so much to the point she could not take it anymore. Sudha moved to London to pursue her Masters and hopes this will help her brother follow suit in the academic trail but instead, her absence makes it much worse.
He flunks out of Columbia University, resorts to waiting tables to make money that he in turn uses to consume even more alcohol. Sudha soon washes her hands of her brother’s life but secretly hopes for a miraculous change. She then finds herself falling in love and eventually marrying a much older professor. Rahul, (whose character seems to always be on the verge of bursting in and disrupting her convincingly normal and happy life) has at this point disappeared for a year and a half only to show up (as feverishly expected) for the wedding reception but in his usual drunken stupor. He then, embarrasses his entire family and disappears once again, and the build up to his impending return begins again. In this length of time, Sudha bears her first born son and I do not know if it’s the maternal instinct in her that lets her forgive her brother or a simple change of heart but she eventually informs him of his nephew and invites him to London to visit them and just when you thought that perhaps things have changed and Rahul has pressed the refresh button in his life, he lives up to his past and shows that he has clearly not changed his ways. This story for a while may seem like a story about family bonds and how difficult they are to sever, but in actual truth and depending on which side you look at it, it indicates just how much power a family member’s influence can have on those around him/her.
As Lahiri writes, she allows her characters to grow in a very non-traditional manner, as if unguided and not training them throughout her narration. Her stories flow along like a simple cycle of growth… As time lapses, the characters in each story either bloom or weaken but eventually all disintegrate back into the earth.
Have you read the book? If yes, let me know your thoughts on it! If not, you should get on it when you can, you will not be disappointed:)