I don't think I am qualified enough to write about this book and this authoress. But I am tempted all the same as I love her writing-- her "Namesake" went straight to the heart and her "Unaccustomed Earth" kindles the soul. I got hold of this book in May last year at a bookshop at the Mumbai Airport on my way back to Kolkata from Goa.
It is a collection of stories - stories that have the wonderful Jhumpa Lahiri flavor. The book is named after its first story of Part One, Unaccustomed Earth. The way Lahiri writes about the dilemmas, crises, insecurities and pressures of the people who have gone from India to settle in an "unaccustomed earth", the way her poignant stories portray how the vast differences between the within and the without haunt them is exquisite.
I guess, I have always been able to relate to Lahiri's stories better, as a part of my family had gone and settled in the US years ago(long long before my birth) and I have had my uncle and aunt and cousins visit us here in Kolkata during my childhood and adolescence.
After enjoying the first story, I had skipped to the third one, titled "A Choice of Accommodations". I had read the second story "Hell-Heaven" earlier in an issue of Graphitti. The poignant tale had haunted me for days and I wanted to read it later.
I was unwell and kept the book aside to resume reading it later. That "later" came only a week back, when I dug the book up from a pile of books and magazines, dusted it and started reading "Hema and Kaushik" - throughout the three stories, "Once in a Lifetime", "Year's End" and "Going Ashore" I was reminded of what Lahiri does to her readers. Her characters are so true and dignified- her characters are all so real! One moment I knew how Hema felt and the other moment I could feel what Kaushik went through. The stories are churned out of life and they linger with us.
Sudha and Rahul of "Only Goodness", Sang, Farouk, Paul of "Nobody's business" are people I got to know and understand intimately. Their lives, situations and stories- their strengths and weaknesses- their fears and worries are our own. The world today has become too small and the boundaries and differences have blurred. A reader sitting at any corner of the world today would be able to identify with Sang and Sudha, would be able to see through Farouk and Rahul, would be able experience the upheavals that the families experience.
I went on with the "Choice of Accommodations" before I started with "Hell-Heaven" last night just after dinner. I stormed through it just as I had the first time when it was published in the Kolkata periodical and it was over in around 40 minutes. This story of Usha's mother and Pranab Kaku, Usha and Deborah still remains my favorite. I was surprised to see how well I remembered it from the first time I read it
As I have said earlier, it would be inappropriate of me to say anything about Jhumpa Lahiri's literary talents. She has a refined prowess of the language and her art of storytelling is flawless. She is undoubtedly one of the best writers we have today!
Trivia: The paperback I read is a Random House India (www.randomhouseinda.co.in) publication. It was a winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and a New York Times, Time and Outlook book of the year. Priced Rs 295, this paperback is nothing but priceless.