Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth

I  was  surprised to see  Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth for 30% off sale when I went to the bookstore last week. I intended to buy the book for in-flight reading from Houston to Mumbai, knowing my impatience on the plane, and thinking that short stories would serve my attention span well.  I’ve not been a fan of Lahiri, and so spending a substantial amount on a new  book was unlike me; but there’s a different pleasure in reading a book that’s just out. I started reading the first story in the store itself and was intrigued, so I bought the book and finished the rest of the story at home. Part of the allure of the title story, for me, was the father-daughter relationship that Lahiri explores. She handles the story really well, etching out the characters in the story’s span, making sure that they don’t appear shallow.

Although the first story did please me, I was not going to transform into a Lahiri-fan just as yet. But the second story “Hell-Heaven” is good too – not too ambitious, yet giving away the agony of a married woman in love and giving the story a satisfactory climax.  The third story, “A Choice of Accommodations” was strictly okay – what I hoped would be a bridge between two great sections of the book. But “Only Goodness,” the fourth story fell flat. I am not sure what I disliked about it most – the Namesake reminiscent, shallow, aggravatingly-lost characters; or Lahiri’s need to make a profound story about a brother-sister relationship; or just the plain simplicity of it. The book builds itself up until this point, and the reader comes crashing down. Sigh! The last story of part one, “Nobody’s Business” is long and very forgettable.

I am not sure what to make of part two of the book. It is a section made of three interconnected stories, involving Hema and Kaushik. Again, these stories are a very pleasant read, but do drag in parts. What I liked about these stories was they gave me a chance to really get to know the characters – directly and indirectly – but still, the section wasn’t so long as to tire me of them. I was drawn to the central characters, which says a lot. However, I was disappointed with the trite and run-of-the-mill ending.

I would say, nevertheless, this is my most favorite work of Lahiri’s. Third one’s a charm, I suppose!

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