Saturday, June 20, 2009

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
352 pages
Published April 2008 by Knopf Publishing Group

This collection of eight stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning Lahiri focuses on relationships--husband and wife, lovers, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers. All of the stories revolve around second-generation Indian immigrants, primarily middle-class Bengalis. That culture is very evident throughout the stories and clearly shapes the relationships between the characters.

Kristen wrote, in a review on What Lahiri does so well is embrace the common, universal challenges of mortality — of family — of relationships. Her focus on Indian-Americans only serves to provide a concrete anchor or context for those burdens and celebrations we all share.

Lahiri knows how to write a short story--she is able to give the reader plenty of detail without weighing down the movement of the story. Tension is built in the spaces, not in the action. Lahiri doesn't get bogged down in backstory or, for the most part, any contrived situations. A sense of loss permeates the collection and the characters often seem to be stuck even as they struggle to find their place between their heritage and a new culture. Some of the stories are heartbreakingly sad, some leave the reader with hope. All are beautifully written.

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