Unaccustomed Earth – Jhumpa Lahiri: Book Review by Asha Seth

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri | Genre: Short Stories | Pages: 354 | Publisher: Bloomsbury

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These eight stories by beloved and bestselling author Jhumpa Lahiri take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand, as they explore the secrets at the heart of family life. Here they enter the worlds of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers. Rich with the signature gifts that have established Jhumpa Lahiri as one of our most essential writers, Unaccustomed Earth exquisitely renders the most intricate workings of the heart and mind.

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Unaccustomed Earth is Jhumpa Lahiri’s yet another collection of most dazzling short-stories of all times making it evident the umpteenth time the kind of prodigious skills she portrays with her art of putting together in words the distressed hearts and confused minds of her characters that are struggling in unknown lands, striving to accept outlandish ways while clutching the bag of their traditional ways close to their hearts and ending up in those neverlands where they find themselves still slightly apart in the lands where they now belong.

That the last two letters in her name were the first two in his, a silly thing he never mentioned to her but caused him to believe that they were bound together.

Lahiri is an expert at writing about immigrant experiences, of people from Indian origin who have settled since some countable generations in America which I believe stems out from her personal life experiences. Unaccustomed Earth is a book put together with eight short stories, each of them rich with imagination and the light tug and pull that you experience in your heart as you read through the pages so efficiently written.

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There is almost always a sweet-sad human touch to Lahiri’s prose which one cannot stop but admire. Her writing style is utmost evocative, you almost go through the world she so carefully portrays. She is so apt with an innate caliber to put life in her characters that you aren’t just reading about them but you are in their heads, in their homes, in their lives, in all of those awkward and nostalgic situations, that you are almost living their private lives.

But death, too, had the power to awe, she knew this now-that a human being could be alive for years and years, thinking and breathing and eating, full of a million worries and feelings and thoughts, taking up space in the world, and then, in an instant, become absent, invisible.

I absolutely love the way she points out raw unsaid emotions in myriad of situations that are otherwise missed by most writers of the genre. She kind of explores that void that exists in all of us of which we never talk and that is precisely what makes the reader connect with her writing as it leaves you a little raw and empty inside, provoking the most immaculately sensitive emotions in her readers.

Things were different now, of course; those solitary hours he’d once savored had become a prison for him, a commonplace.

Each word, each line is almost always soaked in her exemplary style which is simple yet most striking. The endings of her books are not explosively great or anything too grand like the perfectly happy endings some novels are popular for, and yet somehow, what this book offers, remains subtly wedged in your memories longer than you can imagine.

The sky was different, without color, taut and unforgiving. But the water was the most unforgiving thing, nearly black at times, cold enough, I knew, to kill me, violent enough to break me apart. The waves were immense, battering rocky beaches without sand. The farther I went, the more desolate it became, more than any place I’d been, but for this very reason the landscape drew me, claimed me as nothing had in a long time.

Have you read ‘Unaccustomed Earth’? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy reading till we meet next. Until then, carpe diem!