Unaccustomed Earth

Ever since I laid my eyes on Hell-Heaven, one of the many short stories by the Pulitzer prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, I waited for fourth of June, the date the book Unaccustomed Earth was to be released. Due to the wonderful examination system of our country, I hardly got a chance to buy one copy until recently and finally having devoured it all, here is what I felt.

The book, as most of you would be aware, is a collection of short stories. It has been divided into two parts. Part 1 is named Unaccustomed Earth which has stories, each of them being unique and unrelated to each other. Part 2 is named Hema-Kaushik which has intertwined pieces of work. Each of them concentrate on the lives of NRIs and their induced cultural behaviour in one way or the other. However, Jhumpa Lahiri beautifully makes each of them different and consistently makes it a point to have open endings, letting the readers’ imagination go wild. This is good in a sense that it lets each reader have his/her own perspective, although in some stories it does not appear to be the best alternative.

All stories are set in an American background with frequent trips to Europe. Perhaps it is because in the time period 1960s to 1980s , these were the two most popular places for migration for Indians and she has concentrated on that era.

One another thing that is quite striking is the fact that she keeps the work very simple, especially the Part 1 stories. In the Part 2, you do find a more diary writing kind of style, subtle again. Eloquence, is something you will not miss. But if you happen to expect some typical masaledaar stuff, it isn’t a read meant for you.

Her characters, at least one in each of her stories, have the ability to generate empathy and in some cases, even sympathy. The stories are very realistic, again a very creditable feature.

In all her stories, ‘relationships’ have been showcased well, the essence of their complexity and simplicity has been balanced intricately. There isn’t any time when one feels anything going over the top. Like I mentioned before, it is indeed very believable – the love, the trauma, the anxiety, the sorrow; all of it.

She is without doubt a good story teller. However, even though I hate to be critical, it is also true that she does not seem to write beyond her comfort zone. Nonetheless, she has managed to carve a niche in that zone atleast. It is a good read for passing time during these hot summer months, but not a must for your collection.

Meghna Baveja

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