Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Review: Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri

I love this woman's writing and, sadly, I have now read everything she has in print. It seems like she sits down at a table, picks up a pencil, and effortlessly becomes the person she is writing about. What a talent.

Like her first book, Interpreter of Maladies, which won a Pulitzer Prize, this is another collection of short stories—eight of them, but not so short at 333 pages. The final three stories are connected using both POV and a narrator, and IMO are the best of the book.

Lahiri's territory is familiar: Wealthy and highly-educated Bengali immigrants to America, their children who quickly assimilate American culture and spurn tradition, and the frequent clashes that result between the two generations.

Are her stories all the same, then? Of course not. That would be like saying that all stories about Irish and Chinese immigrants are the same. While Lahiri's characters may all be from Calcutta and tend to settle in and around Boston, each one is a unique individual—and it is this uniqueness that is her fodder. One becomes alcoholic and his sister blames herself; another cannot get over the untimely death of his mother; and a third, a widower father, is afraid and ashamed to tell his daughter about his secret lover and companion.

Overall, I think this is a better book of stories than Interpreter, and I give it a full five stars.

[This book will be released in trade paper on April 7, 2009.]


Mary Witzl said...

I've been compiling a list of books I want to read and it's gotten to the point where I'm practically hoping I'll stop finding so many. How am I going to live long enough to read all these books? I don't have time enough to sneeze anymore, and there are all these great books...

And you went and gave this one five full stars, so now of COURSE I'm going to have to read it.

Charlie said...

Okay, okay, I'll lay off the reviews for a while so I don't torment you.

And you probably should take time to sneeze. I've heard that holding sneezes inside is not at all good for the insides.

happykat said...

Hmmmm....I've honestly never heard of her.

Right now I'm reading The Manual of Detection. I'll let you know how it is, but I'll also put this one on the list.

I only got this book because I get to the book store and can find jack sh*t. I don't know what system they use to categorize but it is apparently known only to a select few and I'm not one of them.

Mary Witzl said...

(I've since managed a sneeze or two...)

And just yesterday, I saw one of Jhumpa Lahiri's books, so how is that for convenience?

Charlie said...

HK: What in the hell does jack sh*t mean, or is it a typo?

And yes, there is a secret to shelving books: you take the 10-digit ISBN number, multiply it by the Dewey Decimal number, divide by 2, and shove the book on any shelf that has room for it.

Don't worry, though; you'll catch on sooner or later.

MARY: I'm relieved that you're taking the time to sneeze--after all, you need some private time to yourself.

Whichever of the three Lahiri books you found is well worth reading--as long as it's in English or Japanese.