Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth

I've just finished reading Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth and I'm majorly bummed. It's been 8 long years since the day I reluctantly turned the final page of Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri's first book, utterly smitten with a collection of stories from someone I'd never heard of. I was convinced I'd discovered a great new voice from an unknown writer, having picked the volume up at random from a book table at Oxford University's bookstore while traveling in England. Turns out I was in a cast of thousands--that book, her first (!), won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. Her next effort, a novel called The Namesake, was recently made into a film. The Namesake was okay but had that been all I'd known of Lahiri's writing I'm not sure I would have become an avid fan. With Unaccustomed Earth, however, Lahiri has returned to the short story form and she does not disappoint. It's even better than Interpreter of Maladies--and I can only groan to think how long it might be till I can get my hands on another volume of her stories.

Lahiri's stories deal with contemporary Indian-American families' challenges with assimilation and its resistance, which may sound less than compelling to those who deem this subject matter irrelevant to their own experience, except that Lahiri is such a deft and incisive navigator of cultural and familial nuance, her characters so vividly drawn, her psychological insights so cutting, you are swept away into a world so fully fleshed you feel you've become one of the characters walking around in her pages. Now that I've finished the book I feel like I've been sent home, the party over, and I want to knock on the door and ask if I can stay just a little bit longer, until the other guests have said goodnight.


jenni said...

I have yet to read her, though her books remain on my wish list. I need to get one of 'em soon!

Jana said...

thank you for the review. I've added this to my list of books to read...have you read any of Chitra Divakaruni's short stories?