“Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Being an unabashed fan of Jhumpa Lahiri’s, I loved “Unaccustomed Earth” a collection of short stories, first published by Albert A. Knopf in 2008. I had the pleasure of reading this recently. Ms. Lahiri was not a new author for me as I had read her famous novel, “Namesake” in the past, as also her first anthology of short stories, called ” The Interpreter of Maladies” some years ago.

You may recall that at age 32, she gained immediate fame for the debut ” The Interpreter of Maladies” in 1999. This collection of short stories received popular acclaim. She received the coveted Pulitzer Prize and it was on the New York Times Best Sellers list for long. The stories were typically set in the East Coast of the United States. I guess all the stories had a common theme. They were about the lives of Indian Americans and the challenges faced by first generation immigrants. The author knew this part of the US the best having grown up there. Ms Lahiri’s parents migrated from India to the UK in the 1960’s and when she was three, moved to the US. She then grew up in the State of Rhode Island.

This collection of short stories, titled, “Unaccustomed Earth” coming as it does, about a decade later, shifts focus somewhat to the second generation of Indian American immigrants. Their lives have been vastly different from that of their parents. Their parents had to struggle to balance between two cultures, the Indian culture which they were born and brought up in, and the one they had voluntarily embraced with their new lives in a different country. For the second generation of Indian Americans, the issues were rather different. The ties with India were not so strong or fading away with time. They faced a new set of challenges being Americans -but of Indian origin.

As always, Ms Lahiri writes in a simple yet elegant manner. Her choice of words, and the descriptions of people and places are deft. They make her characters come alive to the reader. The book has eight short stories, each one more engaging than the other. They have a tinge of sadness that one has come to associate with many of Lahiri’s stories. As always, the characters are primarily Bengali though the stories are set in different places such as Seattle, and Cambridge in the US and London, Rome and Thailand outside of the US. Naturally, the Rumas, the Pranabs and Kaushiks of the stories belong to a world with which Lahiri is so familiar.

It is widely acknowledged that short stories are very difficult to write. Her mastery over this craft is so evident in her writing. Highly recommended for anybody who appreciates excellent writing. This is short story writing of the highest order.

2 thoughts on ““Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri

  1. Thank you for the review, Prem. I had not read this volume but loved “The Interpreter of Maladies’. I will look for this one now.

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