Sunday, July 10, 2011

Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed EarthUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of eight short stories with plots and characters that span all walks of life and all hemispheres of the globe. And yet as global of a description as that is, Lahiri’s stories are just about life – its beauty, its complexity, its anguish and the hand-me-down coat no one wants to wear. Lahiri provides her readers with an unflinching glimpse into the lives of her characters giving such specific details that readers feel a parent’s mounting panic as they come home to find their baby has been left alone in the bathtub for hours. The reader experiences the haunting nostalgia as another character stands in the rooms of his boarding school remembering the hopes, the crushes, and the unrealized dreams. The reader also can glimpse the little things like the gold bangle on Hema’s wrist and the smell of naan baking in the kitchen.

Each story resonates with such depth and such reality that reading at times is almost uncomfortable. Somehow Lahiri manages in only thirty to sixt pages to expose the thoughts and anxieties we often are hesitant to share with those closest to us. Simply said, Jhumpa Lahiri has a gift and is one of the greatest writers of her generation. And while her stories are not the ones that I want to read over and over again, they are without question the ones that stay with me and cause me to question the life I am leading.

That said, Lahiri’s books are not everyone. Her stories are beautiful, but they are not fairytales. Things rarely “work out in the end” because as we know life rarely goes the way we plan. Hearts are broken. People fail. Of course, there is success and love is found, but the stories do not follow the traditional roads of boy meets girl, hard work earns the promotion, etc, etc. Reading Lahiri takes some effort, but it is rewarding and the type of book that leaves the reader wanting more.

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