Unaccustomed Earth is the new presentation by Jhumpa Lahiri of fellow NRIs who are Bengalis, with lives simple yet complicated, lives full of stories which are simple yet heartwarming. These are stories which never wish to tell something concrete but merely exist to make our mundane lives warmer with love, loss and sacrifice.
Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of eight short stories, none of them longer than fifty pages, divided into two parts. The first part deals with five individual stories and the second revolves around two characters and their lives. All the stories are connected with ties which are beautiful in itself, with intricate yet carelessly detailed lives with common purpose but different in the routes taken to the familiar destination.
I can describe the book as strikingly simple, brilliantly imaginative and carelessly detailed. In the course of this article, I will tell you why my interpretation of the book is such. I will not detail the article with the descriptions of the stories. It is for the readers to read and interpret for themselves.
Jhumpa Lahiri excels in stories which are simple, mundane and yet are striking because they pack a delicious concoction of warmth, everyday tragedy, love, a little humour, loss and a detailed rendition of the pain the characters feel. I believe the best stories are in our hearts and that is where this beautiful writer finds these unadorned tales which are rich by itself. That is true brilliance.
Imagination beyond imagination is something benchmarked by J.K. Rowling. Jhumpa Lahiri goes to some length to achieve that benchmark. I have always felt that even the most detailed fiction is founded on fact, and that is where the writer excels. Her foundation of each story is separate, intricate and beautifully established. Even if each story has a similar cultural background, she has distinguished the events effortlessly. Each story is imaginative yet unpretentious, humble and endearing.
Every story has a detailed description of each character, their surrounding and various situations. But I found these specifications dropped carelessly, yet appealingly. Maybe I am a Bengali, so these descriptions were known to me, but the way they have been situated in the book is charming. Descriptions of the saris, the vermillion, the safety pins latched safely in the bangles, the dishes and events are thrown in a blend which is casual, but not sloppy.
I am an enormous admirer of Jhumpa Lahiri ever since I read The Namesake and realised that I too was one of her brilliantly written characters. I have never been touched so often by a writer who, in every page, tells the story of my life. Other than J.K. Rowling, I have never come across characters created by any writer with whom I can identify myself. In case of J.K. Rowling it was Hermione Granger and in the case of Jhumpa Lahiri it was Gogol.
I am a Bengali, who has never lived in Bengal, doesn’t know how to read and write my mother tongue, can speak it with fluency but the language is being consistently over-shadowed by my proficiency in Hindi, my national language and English, the language of my education. I used to dread the various cultural events due in the various parts of the country where I have lived like a ‘Bedouin’ (My father has a transferable job, I never had a place called home till Chandigarh came). As a Bengali, we are expected to excel in academics, it is the hallmark of our existence, and establish our lives with graceful maturity. I essentially was Gogol till I read The Namesake and realised what my life was. I found the true me in the book.
Unaccustomed Earth is a must read not because Jhumpa Lahiri is a Pulitzer award winning author, not because her stories establish Indians as successful immigrants who can balance the oriental and occidental, not because her stories are triumphant interpretations of human spirit, but beacuse you truly enjoy and enrich yourself with the simpler things in life. Read it because you wish to learn something about your life. Read it if you can interpret something substantial to make your life rich. Read it if you believe in what your parents have done for you.
These stories are of eternal losses, these are notes on eternal losses.