Tag Archives: unaccustomed earth

Happy Birthday Jhumpa Lahiri!

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite authors: Jhumpa Lahiri. I greatly enjoyed The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth, and have Interpreter of Maladies on my TBR list.

Here is a bio of Jhumpa Lahiri from NPR's The Writer's Almanac today. I love that she didn't even know she had won the Pulitzer, and I also like what she said about her clear, simple writing.

LahiriIt's the birthday of writer Jhumpa Lahiri, born in London (1967). Her parents were Bengali immigrants from India. When Lahiri was two years old, her father got a job as a librarian at the University of Rhode Island, and they moved to America. Her mother spent all day pushing young Jhumpa around in a stroller and making friends with everyone she saw on the street who looked Bengali. On weekends, the whole family would get together with other Bengali families, sometimes driving for hours to other states for a party. The adults cooked Bengali food and spoke Bengali and reminisced; the kids all watched television together.

Throughout her childhood, Lahiri wrote stories to entertain herself. She went to college at Barnard, then to graduate school at Boston University, where she earned what she called 'an absurd number of degrees' — an M.F.A, a master's degree, and a Ph.D. She loved to write, but she struggled to get her stories published. She was on the verge of going to work in retail when Houghton Mifflin agreed to publish her first book for a small advance. That book was The Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of nine stories about Bengalis and Bengali-Americans living in suburban New England. The plots centered on the ordinary details of marriages, families, jobs, cooking, and hosting parties. The Interpreter of Maladies came out in 1999, but the publishers didn't expect to sell many copies so they only released it in trade paperback. As expected, it didn't get much notice at first.

Lahiri had no idea that The Interpreter of Maladies was a contender for any prizes, and then one day she got a phone call. She said: 'I was in my apartment. We had just come back from a short trip to Boston and I was heating up some soup for my lunch. My suitcases were still not unpacked. And the phone rang. It was one or two in the afternoon. The person who called me was from Houghton Mifflin, my publisher, but no one I knew, and she said, "I need to know what year you were born." And then she asked some other fact like where I was born. I just told her. Sometimes people need some information for a reading, for a flyer or something. And then she said, "You don't know why I am calling, do you?" And I said, "No, why are you calling?" And she said, "You just won the Pulitzer."' It was the first time a paperback had ever won the Pulitzer. The Interpreter of Maladies became an immediate best-seller. Lahiri was uncomfortable with her new fame — she said, 'If I stop to think about fans, or best-selling, or not best-selling, or good reviews, or not-good reviews, it just becomes too much. It's like staring at the mirror all day.' So she doesn't read reviews, and she keeps her Pulitzer wrapped in bubble wrap.

Her next book was a novel, The Namesake, another best-seller about Bengali-Americans; and her third book, a collection of stories called Unaccustomed Earth debuted as No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

Jhumpa Lahiri said about her writing: 'I like it to be plain. It appeals to me more. There's form and there's function and I have never been a fan of just form. My husband and I always have this argument because we go shopping for furniture and he always looks at chairs that are spectacular and beautiful and unusual, and I never want to get a chair if it isn't comfortable. I don't want to sit around and have my language just be beautiful.'

Upcoming Show on “That’s How I Blog”

I am very excited for my upcoming show  – Tuesday 3/9 at 9 PM ET – on "That's How I Blog", a weekly Blog Talk Radio show hosted by Nicole of Linus's Blanket. During each show, Nicole talks to a different book blogger about her blog, why she started it, what books she likes to read, etc. I have been catching up on this month's shows, and am getting really excited to be on myself! Nicole is an excellent interviewer – calm and relaxed, but full of good questions.

If you'd like to tune in to my interview, go to this site. You can listen online, or you can call in (I think). If you have any questions you'd like me to answer, leave them as a comment on this post and I will send them to Nicole. If you can't tune in, you can also download the episode after it airs. I will post a link once it's done.

At the end of the show, I will be doing a 20-minute book club with Nicole.  We will be discussing Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri. You can dial in to the book club portion of the show if you'd like to participate.

Thanks in advance for tuning in!

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).