Monday, January 9, 2017

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

I don't keep books after reading them, as a rule, unless they are books that I love so much that I want to lend them to everyone.  However, I do hold on to them until I've reviewed them.  Now, you may have noticed that in 2016 I didn't review a whole of heck of a lot of books.  Good news!  (Er, nope) That's in part because I didn't read a heck of a lot of books! 

That said, the ones I did read are still on my desk, and it's time to take action.  We'll start, in no particular order, with the one that comes most immediately to hand, and that is....Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.  Unaccustomed Earth was, as most books that aren't expressly sent me for review, was chosen from my shelves at random.  It has the dubious distinction of being perhaps the first whole book of short stories by a single author I have read in my entire life.

If this isn't your first time at my blog, you probably know that short story collections are something that I desperately want to like, but the sad reality of the matter is that I all too often find them uneven and unsatisfying.  I am happy to report that Unaccustomed Earth broke the mold.  Despite my being at the peak of distraction with a tizzy of unwilling workaholism and frantic international vacation planning at the time of my reading, I found each and every one of Lahiri's stories compelling, populated with characters split between cultures, the children of Bengali parents who carve out their identities in places that aren't exactly foreign and aren't exactly home - Seattle or New England or Rome.

Just picking up the book again reminds me of Ruma welcoming her father to stay at her new house in Seattle, for the first time without her mother, and agonizing over whether she should invite him to live out his days with her and her family.  There's Sang who daily fields phone calls from Bengali suitors wishing to marry her but who is in love with a philandering Egyptian professor.  Usha is captivated by a friend of her parents' who became like family when he sought out his Bengali roots in Boston but who broke her mother's heart when he married an American girl and embraced a new culture.  Finally, the collection finishes with a few interlinked stories of Hema and Kaushik, whose parents' friendship brings them into each other's orbits only occasionally during their childhoods in Massachusetts and who are surprised to find a home in each other as adults in Rome, a place that is hardly home to either. 

In Unaccustomed Earth, while the characters themselves may still be striving to carve out a place for themselves between generations, readers are treated to fully realized people whose lives and struggles are distilled into only a few powerful pages that leave a lasting impact. 

I think I might be able to get into this whole short story thing after all.  

4 comments:

  1. I'm not a fan of short stories either so maybe I should try this one. What a change it would be to read a fulfilling short story.

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  2. I've been wanting to read this for a while.

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  3. I'm with you on short stories. I just can't seem to like them. Sadly, I don't even try anymore!

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  4. It's terrific that this was sort of a breakthrough book for you regarding short stories. I feel very much like you in wanting to like short story collections, but struggle with it. I have made some progress, but haven't found anything to blow me away. I have not read this author, but have seen positive things about several of the titles. I will give this one a try. Thank you for your thoughts.

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