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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri


Unaccustomed Earth
by Jhumpa Lahiri

Much like the Pulitzer-winning debut Interpreter of Maladies, Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of short stories mostly about upper middle class Bengali immigrants to America. The struggles to adapt while watching their offspring assimilate easily into the new culture seems to be a driving theme in most stories.

Interpreter of Maladies immediately threw me back to Arundati Roy's God of Small Things - astonishing level of detail, exploration of the full range of emotions in the immigrant situation, seemingly normal people put through the blender of life - are inspiring to read.

Now, what speaks to me about Lahiri's talent is her ability to become the characters and write without much inhibition. Most people find it easy to write about their own experiences, or spin off some fiction based on their personal experiences. I wonder how Ms.Lahiri manages to write with such clarity about the travails and triumphs of her deceptively simplistic characters.

The relationship dynamics, be it father/daughter, husband/wife, brother/sister, are probed and presented in sometimes-fascinating, sometimes-shocking ways, somehow managing to present complex emotions in an effortlessly simple way. For instance, early in the first story Ms. Lahiri writes, Ruma feared that her father would become a responsibility, an added demand, continuously present in a way she was no longer used to. It would mean an end to the family she'd created on her own: herself and Adam and Akash, and the second child that would come in January, conceived just before the move.

Iron hand in velvet glove, is what comes to mind when reading her subtle yet striking prose that doesn't resort to melodrama to tug at your heartstrings. The three interconnected stories at the end are powerful, establishing the author as a master of her genre. Despite the single theme in all her stories, each one is unique in showcasing humanity in a gentle and touching way.

However, I must admit, this is not my favorite genre, probably because it hits close to home and I am not ready to explore my own emotions given that my experience about a dozen years ago, while not identical to her characters, still feels raw and unprocessed, possibly unprocessable...

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Sarita said...

That last line in the post touched me. You express well what i feel when i think of Lahiri's books. I had read Interpreter of Maladies the year i moved to this country knowing that i was leaving everything that i knew and was comfortable/uncomfortable with. I took the jump and i felt and still feel conflicting emotions. I have since avoided reading her books. I think she is an amazing writer but i am not a detached reader :-)
I did see the movie 'Namesake' knowing that it won't touch me the way a book would do.

You have reviewed some amazing books here, i have bookmarked some to get out of the library. nice post.

thanks and regards,
Sarita

7:17 PM  
Blogger Sheela said...

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with me, Sarita, I really appreciate you taking the time...

What did you think of Namesake, the movie? I didn't like the book much so decided not to see the movie, but, not surprisingly, many of my non-Indian friends loved it!

9:13 PM  

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