Review: Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth – Jhumpa Lahiri

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From Publisher’s Weekly –

The gulf that separates expatriate Bengali parents from their American-raised children—and that separates the children from India—remains Lahiri’s subject for this follow-up to Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake. In this set of eight stories, the results are again stunning. In the title story, Brooklyn-to-Seattle transplant Ruma frets about a presumed obligation to bring her widower father into her home, a stressful decision taken out of her hands by his unexpected independence. The alcoholism of Rahul is described by his elder sister, Sudha; her disappointment and bewilderment pack a particularly powerful punch. And in the loosely linked trio of stories closing the collection, the lives of Hema and Kaushik intersect over the years, first in 1974 when she is six and he is nine; then a few years later when, at 13, she swoons at the now-handsome 16-year-old teen’s reappearance; and again in Italy, when she is a 37-year-old academic about to enter an arranged marriage, and he is a 40-year-old photojournalist. An inchoate grief for mothers lost at different stages of life enters many tales and, as the book progresses, takes on enormous resonance. Lahiri’s stories of exile, identity, disappointment and maturation evince a spare and subtle mastery that has few contemporary equals.

My thoughts –

Reading this collection of short stories solidified for me the fact that Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my absolute favorite authors, by far.  I became completely immersed in each one of these eight stories… I LOVED reading this book.  The characters were so incredibly well-developed that even though each one only graced the pages for approximately one-eighth of the book, I completely understood them and felt like I truly knew each and every one.  Although not every character was inherently likable, because of how well Lahiri wrote them, I felt compassion and empathy for each of them… perhaps especially the few that were the most flawed.

The stories themselves were simply perfect in every way.  The stories had the exact format of beginning, middle, and end, but told in such a way that just when you thought it might be over, something else monumental would occur in the characters’ lives.  And then, when it really was over, there was almost always something left to the imagination… always some aspect to the stories that allowed the reader to make a few guesses about how things might end up. 

The funny thing is that I am not typically a short story person… I’m not usually attracted to reading short stories, and when I do, I frequently find myself bored with them or impatient with the lack of depth.  Lahiri’s short stories, however, in both Unaccustomed Earth and Interpreter of Maladies, are so very wonderful that I want to pick up every short story I can find, in the hopes that they might be half as good as Lahiri’s.  I have tried here to explain how great I thought this book was without giving too much away, and I hope I did that.  Read this book, just read it.  I’m so glad I did.

Also – for fans of Unaccustomed Earth, I highly recommend reading The Namesake, Lahiri’s only full novel.  It’s actually my favorite of her three books, so if you enjoy her writing style, I really think that’s a book you should pick up.

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6 thoughts on “Review: Unaccustomed Earth”

  1. Lahiri is awesome. And I totally agree with you about short stories. I think I’ve only read a couple of short story authors that I really like-and she’s definitely in the top two. Although this was my least favorite of all her works so far (of course, her other two are among my favorite books of all time), I know I’ll always read anything she publishes!

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