UNACCUSTOMED EARTH by Jhumpa Lahiri

Reviews abound for Jumpa Lahiri’s new short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth. See here and here and here. But one I especially liked was in last Friday’s New York Times. (I will still never understand why some papers, like The Washington Post and The New York Times, duplicate efforts by reviewing books in the daily arts section and then again in the weekly book review. With so many good books out there to review, why give one book two reviews?).

Here’s part of the review:

LahiriJumpa Lahiri’s characters tend to be immigrants from India and their American-reared children, exiles who straddle two countries, two cultures, and belong to neither: too used to freedom to accept the rituals and conventions of home, and yet too steeped in tradition to embrace American mores fully. These Indian-born parents want the American Dream for their children — name-brand schools, a prestigious job, a roomy house in the suburbs — but they are cautious about the pitfalls of life in this alien land, and isolated by their difficulties with language and customs. Their children too are often emotional outsiders: having grown up translating the mysteries of the United States for their relatives, they are fluent navigators of both Bengali and American culture but completely at home in neither; they always experience themselves as standing slightly apart, given more to melancholy observation than wholehearted participation.

As she did in her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories Interpreter of Maladies and her dazzling 2003 novel The Namesake, Ms. Lahiri writes about these people in Unaccustomed Earth with an intimate knowledge of their conflicted hearts, using her lapidary eye for detail to conjure their daily lives with extraordinary precision: the faint taste of coconut in the Nice cookies that a man associates with his dead wife; the Wonder Bread sandwiches, tinted green with curry, that a Bengali mother makes for her embarrassed daughter to take to school. A Chekhovian sense of loss blows through these new stories: a reminder of Ms. Lahiri’s appreciation of the wages of time and mortality and her understanding too of the missed connections that plague her husbands and wives, parents and children, lovers and friends.

Many of the characters in these stories seem to be in relationships that are filled with silences and black holes. In some cases this is the result of an arranged marriage that’s never worked out; in others it is simply a case of people failing to communicate or failing to reach out, in time, for what they want.

I haven’t read Interpreter of Maladies, but I loved The Namesake. I’d love to give this collection a try.

Has anyone read this book yet? I know, I know, it’s been out for about two hours. Superfast Reader? (I know you loved The Namesake).

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