Sunday, April 6, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Every time I read short stories, I wonder why I don’t read more of them. I love them and this book is no exception.

In Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri presents a powerful, wonderful and diverse collection of short stories featuring spectacular and believable Indian characters. The book is split into two sections. The first section features 5 separate unrelated short stories. Each one of these is superb. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Unaccustomed Earth, which lends it’s title to the book. The second section features 3 short stories that follow two characters, Hema and Kaushik, from childhood to adulthood. While the stories are related, each can and does stand on it’s own merits. My favourite of these is Once in a Lifetime. I love the style in which it is written. It’s from Hema’s point of view and it’s as though she talking to her childhood memory of Kaushik:

I had seen you before, too many times to count, but a farewell that my family threw for yours, at our house in Inman Square, is when I begin to recall your presence in my life.

While most of the stories in this collection deal with love, it’s not just romantic love that is featured. Lahiri’s stories deal with parental love, sibling love, dating, arranged marriages and infidelity. Alcoholism or alcohol abuse is also present in a few of the stories. The stories are complex, emotional, and sometimes, despite the heavy subject matter, even a little humorous. Her characters are exceptional and I suspect that they will stay with me for a long time.

I never tire of stories about the Indian culture. It doesn’t matter if the setting is India, Europe or the West. The food, the customs and traditions, the beliefs; it is fascinating. In these stories, the characters are faced with keeping old traditions while fitting into the new world. The younger generations are usually more eager to fit in and give up old traditions, but as we soon discover, that’s not always true.

This is the second book of Lahiri’s that I’ve read. Interpreter of Maladies is also a short story collection. I remember being moved to tears by a few of the stories in that collection. I’d highly recommend it.

I hope to read many more works by Jhumpa Lahiri. She's definitely among my favourite authors.

Highly recommended.

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