I read Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, for the 20-minute Book Club portion of my upcoming show on That's How I Blog on Tuesday night. I had read The Namesake – which I loved – but I hadn't read any of Lahiri's short stories before. Nicole of Linus's Blanket, the host of That's How I Blog, had Unaccustomed Earth on her TBR list, so I thought it would be a good pick, and I wasn't disappointed.
Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of eight stories, the final three of which form a sort of novella. The stories touch on typical Lahiri fare: relationships between parents (usually immigrants) and children; the experience of immigration from India (to the "unaccustomed earth" of the title); and love – romantic, familial, or otherwise. The stories are mostly tinged with sadness, but they are wonderfully and richly written, and so compelling that each one kept me eagerly turning pages to its suspenseful close.
Lahiri is a beautiful, understated writer. Her use of detail is perfect – never extraneous, always there to set a scene better, to convey the subleties of conversation or relationships. She has great sympathy for her characters, even when they do things that are not so admirable. She treats them gently, without judgment, just as she did in The Namesake, which makes her stories even more poignant. There are no villains here – just people trying to get through their lives amidst pain and alienation and heartbreak. The stories have varied settings – from comfortable Lahiri venues as Cambridge and Boston to Seattle, London and Rome.
I really loved this book. I am not usually a short story fan, and I think I prefer Lahiri as a novelist over a story writer, only because for me, novels are more memorable and have more of an impact. But these stories were so satisfying on their own that this collection worked.
Highly, highly recommended.