Also by Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake Interpreter of Maladies Unaccustomed Earth This book has been optimized for view. Unaccustomed earth. by Jhumpa Lahiri. Publication date Publisher Vintage Contemporaries. Collection inlibrary; printdisabled. These eight stories by beloved and bestselling author Jhumpa Lahiri take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand, as they explore the secrets at the heart of family life. Rich with the signature gifts that have established Jhumpa Lahiri as one of our most essential.
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Also available as: Not in United States? Choose your country's store to see books available for purchase. These eight stories by beloved and bestselling author Jhumpa Lahiri take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand, as they explore the secrets at the heart of family life. Here they enter the worlds of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers. Rich with the signature gifts that have established Jhumpa Lahiri as one of our most essential writers, Unaccustomed Earth exquisitely renders the most intricate workings of the heart and mind. Lorrie Moore.
She was aware of her father quietly monitoring her driving, glancing now and then at the speedometer, looking along with her when she was about to switch lanes. She pointed out the grocery store where she now shopped, the direction of Mount Rainier, not visible today. I think it takes him about forty minutes each way. And we fell in love with the house. Have you found work in this new place? I am only asking if you have a time frame in mind.
Now is the time for you to be working, building your career. Her mother would have understood her decision, would have been supportive and proud. It may not be so simple.
Unaccustomed Earth: Jhumpa Lahiri: Bloomsbury Publishing
Somehow, she feared that any difference of opinion would chip away at the already frail bond that existed between them. As it turned out the weather was perfect, the sun beating brilliantly on the ocean as they exchanged their vows. And yet, even to this day, Ruma suffered from nightmares of the white tent and folding chairs and hundreds of guests soaked by rain. She pulled into the parking lot where the swimming pool was. Inside the building, she told her father to wait on the benches where they could watch the class through a window, while she went into the locker room to change Akash into his bathing suit.
When she joined her father he was busy with his camera, putting in a new tape and adjusting the settings. But there were no spots in that class, and from the very beginning Akash had separated from her willingly, leaping into the arms of the instructor, an auburn-haired teenage girl.
For the next thirty minutes her father taped Akash continuously: Her father stood up from the bench where Ruma sat, the lens of the video camera nearly touching the window. He had not paid this sort of attention when Ruma and Romi were growing up. Her father had not taught Romi to throw a baseball, and he had not taken them to learn to skate on the pond, a short walk through the woods behind their neighborhood, that froze every winter. In the car on the way home, her father brought up the topic of her career again.
For mental stability. All my life, since I was sixteen, I have been working. That is why I am traveling so much. Tomorrow, who knows. What are you saying? Only, perhaps, that it makes me nervous that you are not employed.
It is not for my sake, you understand. My concern is for you. I have more than enough money to last until I am dead. We are only talking silly things. Oh dear, what a nice train you have, has it left the station?
That night after dinner he showed his videos. Most of the images were captured through the window of the tour bus, as a guide explained things about the monuments they were passing. He had always been careful to keep Mrs. It is a different group in each country. And then he remembered offering to let Mr. Without his realizing, Mr. Yamata must have pressed the record button. Bagchi vanished, did not appear again. He was grateful the room was dark, that his daughter could not see his face.
A woman who looked Indian. He felt pathetic deceiving her. But what would he say? That he had made a new friend? A girlfriend? The word was unknown to him, impossible to express; he had never had a girlfriend in his life. It would have been easier telling Romi. He would have absorbed the information casually, might even have found it a relief.
Ruma was different. She and Ruma were allies. Like his wife, Ruma was now alone in this new place, overwhelmed, without friends, caring for a young child, all of it reminding him, too much, of the early years of his marriage, the years for which his wife had never forgiven him. But his daughter was no longer his responsibility. Finally, he had reached that age. Bagchi concealed somewhere in the throng.
Akash woke her the following morning, running into her room and tugging her arm. It was quarter to eight. In the kitchen she saw that her father had not had his breakfast; there was no bowl and spoon in the dish drainer, no dried-out tea bag on a plate beside the stove. It would be like him, to do that and not wake her up. There was no way to reach him; her father did not carry a cell phone.
She picked up the phone anyway, deciding to call Adam, to ask him what to do. But just then she heard the sound of gravel crackling under tires. I thought I would drive by and see their hours.
A place that sells plants. I can plant a few shrubs, some ground covering if you like. Next to it is a place that sells pastries. You said you wanted to rest. And yet his offer appealed to her. But of course Akash was too small to see the top of the bureau, too young to read a note.
When the nursery opened her father went out again, taking Akash with him this time, transferring the car seat into the sedan. It was odd being alone in the house, and she worried that perhaps Akash would suddenly demand her presence. The clothes were large on her father, the shoulders of the shirt drooping, the cuffs of the pants rolled up. For the rest of the day, with Akash playing at his side in a growing mountain of soil, her father pushed the shovel into the ground, hacking away at grass with a soft, forceful sound, wearing his baseball cap to protect his head from the sun.
The next morning her father drove back to the nursery to get more things: Akash spent all day outdoors, splashing in the pool and squirting water into the garden, or searching for the worms her father dug up. Again her father worked almost continuously until dusk. It would be another four weeks until the amnio, allowing them to learn the sex.
She dug out her maternity wear, the large-paneled pants and tunics that she would soon require. She removed all the toys and books and began to put them in the corner.
She would ask her father to help her carry it outside, so that she could paint in the yard. At one point Akash came into the room, surprising her. He was barefoot, his golden legs covered with dirt. She wondered if he would be upset with her for touching his things, but he regarded the pile as if it were perfectly normal and then began picking items out of it.
What are you planting? She followed him outside, where she saw that her father had created a small plot for Akash, hardly larger than a spreadopen newspaper, with shallow holes dug out at intervals.
She watched as Akash buried things into the soil, crouching over the ground just as her father was. Into the soil went a pink rubber ball, a few pieces of Lego stuck together, a wooden block etched with a star. Can you touch it still? He picked up a miniature plastic dinosaur, forcing it into the ground.
While her father was in the shower, she made tea. It was a ritual she liked, a formal recognition of the day turning into evening in spite of the sun not setting. When she was on her own, these hours passed arbitrarily. She was grateful for the opportunity to sit on the porch with her father, with the teapot and the bowl of salted cashews and the plate of Nice biscuits, looking at the lake and listening to the vast breeze work its way through the treetops, a grander version of the way Akash used to sigh when he was a baby, full of contentment, in the depths of sleep.
We have an air mattress. I am comfortable where I am. It would have been nice in the old house. In a way it was helpful to be in a place her mother had never seen. That side of the house was coolest.
She imagined a wall in the dining room broken down, imagined speaking to her mother on the telephone, her mother complaining as the workmen hammered and drilled. Then she saw her parents sitting in the shade, in wicker chairs, having tea as she and her father were now.
For when she pictured that house in her mind, her mother was always alive in it, impossible not to see. Only the words her mother used were more literal, enriching the tired phrase with meaning: But death, too, had the power to awe, she knew this now—that a human being could be alive for years and years, thinking and breathing and eating, full of a million worries and feelings and thoughts, taking up space in the world, and then, in an instant, become absent, invisible. Just a TV and a sofa and my things.
There is no space for all of you to stay. Not like here. How long are you going to torture yourself? She had planned to tell Adam this, but now she changed her mind. Make sure everyone gets along. But it was Akash who brought out a side of her father that surprised Ruma most. In the evenings her father stood beside her in the bathroom as she gave Akash his bath, scrubbing the caked-on dirt from his elbows and knees.
He helped put on his pajamas, brush his teeth, and comb back his soft damp hair. When Akash had fallen asleep one afternoon on the living-room carpet, her father made sure to put a pillow under his head, drape a cotton blanket over his body. She imagined them both under the covers, their heads reclining against the pillows, the book between them, Akash turning the pages as her father read. He read awkwardly, pausing between the sentences, his voice oddly animated as it was not in ordinary speech.
The garden was coming along nicely. It was a futile exercise, he knew. He could not picture his daughter or his son-in-law caring for it properly, noticing what needed to be done. In weeks, he guessed, it would be overgrown with weeds, the leaves chewed up by slugs.
Then again, perhaps they would hire someone to do the job. It was a 49 modest planting, some slow-growing myrtle and phlox under the trees, two azalea bushes, a row of hostas, a clematis to climb one of the posts of the porch, and in honor of his wife, a small hydrangea. In a plot behind the kitchen, unable to resist, he also put in a few tomatoes, along with some marigolds and impatiens; there was just time for a small harvest to come in by the fall.
He spaced out the delphiniums, tied them to stalks, stuck some gladiola bulbs into the ground. It was the one thing he missed about the old house, and when he thought about his garden was when he missed his wife most keenly.
She had taken that from him. For years, after the children had grown, it had just been the two of them, but she managed to use up all the vegetables, putting them into dishes he did not know how to prepare himself. These things take time, Akash. Do you remember what I taught you this morning? In bed that night, after Akash had fallen asleep beside him, he wrote Mrs. Bagchi a postcard. The picture was a view of ferries on Elliott Bay, a sight he had not seen. But here he had no choice.
He composed the letter in Bengali, an alphabet Ruma would not be able to decipher. The weather is pleasant, no rain here in summer. He did not sign his name. He looked through his wallet, where on a folded slip of paper he had written down Mrs. He carried only a few addresses with him: He could take it back with him to Pennsylvania and mail it from there, but that seemed silly.
He decided he could tell Ruma that he needed to mail a bill. There was a public mailbox two miles down the road; at some point before leaving he could drop it there. It was not an easy room to hide things in: At some point in the day Ruma came downstairs—he never could tell when—in order to make his bed and check the hamper for laundry and wipe away the water that he splattered, in the course of brushing his teeth and shaving, at the sides of the sink. He considered putting the postcard in the pocket of his suitcase, but was too tired to get out of bed.
Instead, he tucked it between the pages of the Seattle guidebook on the side table, 51 and then, as an extra precaution, put the book into the table drawer. He turned to face his sleeping grandson, the long lashes and rounded cheeks reminding him of his own children when they were young.
He imagined the boy years from now, occupying this very room, shutting the door as Ruma and Romi had. It was inevitable. And yet he knew that he, too, had turned his back on his parents, by settling in America. In the name of ambition and accomplishment, none of which mattered anymore, he had forsaken them. He told her how often to water, and for how long, to wait until the sun had gone down. Patiently she listened as Akash dashed in and out of his pool, but she absorbed little of what her father said.
She had not known. If the sun is strong check them twice a day. And cut down the delphinium stalks in the fall. He stood up awkwardly, a hand gripping the front of his thigh. He took off his baseball cap and wiped his forehead with his arm. But this is your home, not mine.
You can still go on your trips whenever you like. Would you like that? For all of us. Her father did not step toward her to comfort her.
He was silent, waiting for the moment to pass. Is that still possible? He was suddenly desperate to leave, the remaining twenty-four hours feeling unbearable. He reminded himself that tomorrow he would be on a plane, heading back to Pennsylvania. And that two weeks after that he would be going to Prague with Mrs. Bagchi, sleeping next to her at night.
He knew that it was not for his sake that his daughter was asking him to live here. It was for hers. And because of this the offer upset him more.
A part of him, the part of him that would never cease to be a father, felt obligated to accept. But it was not what he wanted.
He did not want to be part of another family, part of the mess, the feuds, the demands, the energy of it. Life grew and grew until a certain point. The point he had reached now. It was Ruma to whom he would give a new reminder that now that his wife was gone, even though he was still alive, there was no longer anyone to care for her.
The more the children grew, the less they had seemed to resemble either parent—they spoke differently, dressed differently, seemed foreign in every way, from the texture of their hair to the shapes of their feet and hands. Oddly, it was his grandson, who was only half-Bengali to begin with, who did not even have a Bengali surname, with whom he felt a direct biological connection, a sense of himself reconstituted in another. He remembered his children coming home from college, impatient with him and his wife, enamored of their newfound independence, always wanting to leave.
It had tormented his wife and, though he never admitted it, had pained him as well. He and his wife were their whole world. But eventually that need dissipated, dwindled to something amorphous, tenuous, something that threatened at times to snap.
That loss was in store for Ruma, too; her children would become strangers, avoiding her. And because she was his child he wanted to protect her from that, as he had tried throughout his life to protect her from so many things. He wanted to shield her from the deterioration that inevitably took place in the course of a marriage, and from the conclusion he sometimes feared was true: Her father left early the next morning, while Akash was still asleep.
They were all tired from their day in Seattle. The tea bag normally saved for a second cup later in the day had been tossed out. Things will return to normal then. Her father glanced at his watch, then poured a bit of his tea into his saucer in order to cool it more quickly. He raised the saucer to his lips, sipping from the rim. I have enjoyed each day. I am too old now to make such a shift. She understood that he had not had to think it over, that he had never intended to stay.
It was time to go. He turned to leave the room, then stopped. I need to put a bill into the mail. He kissed Ruma on the cheek. Let me know how the garden comes along. She stood watching as he turned on the engine and backed out, wondering when she would see him again. At the mailbox he paused, and for a 57 moment she thought he was about to open the window and put his bill inside. But he only waved through the closed window, leaning toward her, looking lost, and a few seconds later he was gone.
It was chillier than she expected, still too early for the warmth of the day to have gathered. She considered going back in for sweaters. You cold? He picked up the empty watering can her father had left underneath the porch and pretended to water things in his little plot. She looked at the items poking out of the ground: There were papers, too: Her eye fell to another piece of paper, stiffer than the rest. She assumed it was a postcard her father had sent to her, one Akash had removed from the front of the refrigerator door, or the basket on the hall table.
It was composed in Bengali and addressed in English to someone on Long Island. A Mrs. Meenakshi Bagchi. She picked it up. Here, in a handful of sentences she could not even read, was the explanation, the evidence that it was not just with Akash that her father had fallen in love.
He searched frantically through each page, shaking the book by its spine, but the postcard was missing. She took Akash inside, wiped his tears and held him, and then, when he was calm, prepared his breakfast. She said yes when he asked if he could watch television, setting him with his cereal bowl behind the coffee table, and returned to the kitchen to look at the postcard again.
They were sentences her mother would have absorbed in an instant, sentences that proved, with more force than the funeral, more force than all the days since then, that her mother no longer existed. Where had her mother gone, when life persisted, when Ruma still needed her to explain so many things? She walked back outside, across the grass and looked at the hydrangea her father had planted, that was to bloom pink or blue depending on the soil.
It did not prove to Ruma that her father had loved her mother, or even that he missed her. And yet he had put it there, honored her before turning to another woman.
She turned the postcard around and looked at the front, at the generic view her father had chosen to commemorate his visit. Then she went back into the house, to the table in the hall. After Pranab Kaku was befriended by my parents, he confessed that on the day we met him he had followed my mother and me for the better part of an afternoon around the streets of Cambridge, where she and I tended to roam after I got out of school.
He had trailed behind us along Massachusetts Avenue and in and out of the Harvard Coop, where my mother liked to look at discounted housewares. The answer to his question was clear, given that my mother was wearing the red and white bangles unique to Bengali married women, and a common Tangail sari, and had a thick stem of vermilion powder in the center parting of her hair, and the full round face and large dark eyes that are so typical of Bengali women.
But back then, he also confessed, he was so new to America that he took nothing for granted and doubted even the obvious. According to the story he liked to recall often, my mother invited him to accompany us back to our apartment that very afternoon and prepared tea for the two of them; then, after learning that he had not had a proper Bengali meal in more than three months, she served him the leftover curried mackerel and rice that we had eaten for dinner the night before.
He remained into the evening for a second dinner after my father got home, and after that he showed up for dinner H E L L - H E AV E N almost every night, occupying the fourth chair at our square Formica kitchen table and becoming a part of our family in practice as well as in name.
He was from a wealthy family in Calcutta and had never had to do so much as pour himself a glass of water before moving to America, to study engineering at MIT.
He was living on Trowbridge Street in the home of a divorced woman with two young children who were always screaming and crying. Instead, they welcomed him to our meals and opened up our apartment to him at any time, and soon it was there he went between classes and on his days off, always leaving behind some vestige of himself: I remember vividly the sound of his exuberant laughter and the sight of his lanky body slouched or sprawled on the dull, mismatched furniture that had come with our apartment.
He had a striking face, with a high forehead and a thick mustache, and overgrown, untamed hair that my mother said made him look like the American hippies who were everywhere in those days. Though 63 he was a scientist by training, there was nothing rigid or predictable or orderly about him. In private, my parents remarked that he was a brilliant student, a star at Jadavpur who had come to MIT with an impressive assistantship, but Pranab Kaku was cavalier about his classes, skipping them with frequency.
It must have pleased her that I looked forward to his visits as well. He showed me card tricks and an optical illusion in which he appeared to be severing his own thumb with enormous struggle and strength and taught me to memorize multipli- H E L L - H E AV E N cation tables well before I had to learn them in school.
His hobby was photography. He owned an expensive camera that required thought before you pressed the shutter, and I quickly became his favorite subject, round-faced, missing teeth, my thick bangs in need of a trim.
I remember having to run back and forth in Harvard Yard as he stood with the camera, trying to capture me in motion, or posing on the steps of university buildings and on the street and against the trunks of trees.
There is only one photograph in which my mother appears; she is holding me as I sit straddling her lap, her head tilted toward me, her hands pressed to my ears as if to prevent me from hearing something. It was always the three of us. I was always there when he visited. It would have been inappropriate for my mother to receive him in the apartment alone; this was something that went without saying.
They had in common all the things she and my father did not: They were from the same neighborhood in North Calcutta, their family homes within walking distance, the facades familiar to them once the exact locations were described. They knew the same shops, the same bus and tram routes, the same holes-in-thewall for the best jelabis and moghlai parathas.
My father, on the other hand, came from a suburb twenty miles outside Calcutta, an area that my mother considered the wilderness, and even in her bleakest hours of homesickness she was grateful that my father had at least spared her a life in the stern house of her inlaws, where she would have had to keep her head covered with the end of her sari at all times and use an outhouse that was 65 nothing but a raised platform with a hole, and where, in the rooms, there was not a single painting hanging on the walls.
She and Pranab Kaku would try to recall which scene in which movie the songs were from, who the actors were and what they were wearing.
My mother would describe Raj Kapoor and Nargis singing under umbrellas in the rain, or Dev Anand strumming a guitar on the beach in Goa.
She and Pranab Kaku would argue passionately about these matters, raising their voices in playful combat, confronting each other in a way she and my father never did. My father was thirty-seven then, nine years older than my mother. My father was a lover of silence and solitude. He had married my mother to placate his parents; they were willing to accept his desertion as long as he had a wife.
He was wedded to his work, his research, and he existed in a shell that neither my mother nor I could penetrate. Conversation was a chore for him; it required an effort he preferred to expend at the lab. He disliked excess in anything, voiced no cravings or needs apart from the frugal elements of his daily routine: He did not eat with the reckless appetite of Pranab Kaku.
But my guess is that my father was grateful to Pranab Kaku for the companionship he provided, freed from the sense of responsibility he must have felt for forcing her to leave India, and relieved, perhaps, to see her happy for a change.
He would take us to India Tea and Spices in Watertown, and one time he drove us all the way to New Hampshire to look at the mountains.
As the weather grew hotter, we started going, once or twice a week, to Walden Pond. Pranab Kaku listened to these stories with interest, absorbing the vanishing details of her past. He did not turn a deaf ear to her nostalgia, like my father, or listen uncomprehending, like me.
She would unpack the picnic things and sit and watch us as we swam. His chest was matted with thick dark hair, all the way to his waist. Wherever we went, any stranger would have 67 naturally assumed that Pranab Kaku was my father, that my mother was his wife. It is clear to me now that my mother was in love with him. He wooed her as no other man had, with the innocent affection of a brother-in-law. In my mind, he was just a family member, a cross between an uncle and a much older brother, for in certain respects my parents sheltered and cared for him in much the same way they cared for me.
He was respectful of my father, always seeking his advice about making a life in the West, about setting up a bank account and getting a job, and deferring to his opinions about Kissinger and Watergate. Occasionally, my mother would tease him about women, asking about female Indian students at MIT or showing him pictures of her younger cousins in India. But, most important, in the beginning he was totally dependent on her, needing her for those months in a way my father never did in the whole history of their marriage.
I was evidence of her marriage to my father, an assumed consequence of the life she had been raised to lead. But Pranab Kaku was different. He was the one totally unanticipated pleasure in her life.
In the fall of , Pranab Kaku met a student at Radcliffe named Deborah, an American, and she began to accompany him to our house. Deborah was very tall, taller than both my parents and nearly as tall as Pranab Kaku. She wore her long brass-colored hair center-parted, as my mother did, but it was gathered into a low ponytail instead of a braid, or it spilled messily over her shoulders and down her back in a way that my mother considered indecent.
She wore small silver spectacles and not a trace of makeup, and she studied philosophy. I found her utterly beautiful, but according to my mother she had spots on her face, and her hips were too small. For a while, Pranab Kaku still showed up once a week for dinner on his own, mostly asking my mother what she thought of Deborah.
He sought her approval, telling her that Deborah was the daughter of professors at Boston College, that her father published poetry, and that both her parents had PhDs. At larger gatherings, they kissed and held hands in front of everyone, and when they were out of earshot my mother would talk to the other Bengali women.
I fell in love with Deborah, the way young girls often fall in love with women who are not their mothers. I loved her serene gray eyes, the ponchos and denim wrap skirts and sandals she wore, her straight hair that she let me manipulate into all sorts of silly styles. I longed for her casual appearance; my mother insisted whenever there was a gathering that I wear one of my ankle-length, faintly Victorian dresses, which she referred to as maxis, and have party hair, which meant taking a strand from either side of my head and joining them with a barrette at the back.
At parties, Deborah would, eventually, politely slip away, much to the relief of the Bengali women with whom she was expected to carry on a conversation, and she would play with me. She gave me the sorts of gifts my parents had neither the money nor the inspiration to buy: She told me about her family, three older sisters and two brothers, the youngest of whom was closer to my age than to hers.
Deborah and I spoke freely in English, a language in which, by that age, I expressed myself more easily than Bengali, which I was required to speak at home.
Sometimes she asked me how to say this or that in Bengali; once, she asked me what asobbho meant. I felt protective of her, aware that she was unwanted, that she was resented, aware of the nasty things people said. Soon, my mother began coming up with reasons to excuse herself, headaches and incipient colds, and so I became part of a new triangle. To my surprise, my mother allowed me to go with them, to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Public Garden and the Aquarium.
I saw no sign of their relationship foundering. Their open affection for each other, their easily expressed happiness, was a new and romantic thing to me. Having me in the backseat allowed Pranab Kaku and Deborah to practice for the future, to try on the idea of a family of their own. We exchanged what I believed were secret smiles, and in those moments I felt that she understood me better than anyone else in the world.
Anyone would have said that Deborah would make an excellent mother one day. But my mother refused to acknowledge such a thing. After ten weeks, she miscarried once again and was advised by her doctor to stop trying. He showed us the box, opening it and taking out the diamond nestled inside. Then he asked for a second thing: He was nervous, naturally, about telling his family that he intended to marry an American girl.
He had told his parents all about us, and at one point my parents had received a letter from them, expressing appreciation for taking such good care of their son and for giving him a proper home in America.
Chakraborty telling my father that they could not possibly bless such a marriage, that it was out of the question, that if Pranab Kaku dared to marry Deborah he would no longer acknowledge him as a son.
Then his wife got on the phone, asking to speak to my mother and attacked her as if they were intimate, blaming my mother for allowing the affair to develop. In the face of this refusal, Pranab Kaku shrugged.
They moved in together, to an apartment in Boston, in the South End, a part of the city my parents considered unsafe. We moved as well, to a house in Natick. Though my parents had bought the house, they occupied it as if they were still tenants, touching up scuff marks with leftover paint and reluctant to put holes in the walls, and every afternoon when the sun shone through the living-room window my mother closed the blinds so that our new furniture would not fade.
A few weeks before the wedding, my parents invited Pranab Kaku to the house alone, and my mother prepared a special meal to mark the end of his bachelorhood. It would be the only Bengali aspect of the wedding; the rest of it would be strictly American, with a cake and a minister and Deborah in a long white dress and veil.
There is a photograph of the dinner, 73 taken by my father, the only picture, to my knowledge, in which my mother and Pranab Kaku appear together.
It was going to be a small ceremony, which my parents took to mean one or two hundred people as opposed to three or four hundred. My mother was shocked that fewer than thirty people had been invited, and she was more perplexed than honored that, of all the Bengalis Pranab Kaku knew by then, we were the only ones on the list.
She kept speaking in Bengali, complaining about the formality of the proceedings, and the fact that Pranab Kaku, wearing a tuxedo, barely said a word to us because he was too busy leaning over the shoulders of his new American in-laws as he circled the table. The only time my mother forced a smile was when Deborah appeared behind her chair, kissing her on the cheek and asking if we were enjoying ourselves. When the dancing started, my parents remained at the table, drinking tea, and after two or three songs they decided that it was time for us to go home, my mother shooting me looks to that effect across the room, where I was dancing in a circle with Pranab Kaku and Deborah and the other children at the wedding.
I wanted to stay, and when, reluctantly, I walked over to where my parents sat, Deborah followed me. The following year, we received a birth announcement from the Chakrabortys, a picture of twin girls, which my mother did not paste into an album or display on the refrigerator door. The girls were named Srabani and Sabitri but were called Bonny and Sara.
For a while, my parents and their friends continued to invite the Chakrabortys to gatherings, but because they never came, or left after staying only an 75 hour, the invitations stopped.
Their absences were attributed, by my parents and their circle, to Deborah, and it was universally agreed that she had stripped Pranab Kaku not only of his origins but of his independence. She was the enemy, he was her prey, and their example was invoked as a warning, and as vindication, that mixed marriages were a doomed enterprise. Occasionally, they surprised everyone, appearing at a pujo for a few hours with their two identical little girls who barely looked Bengali and spoke only English and were being raised so differently from me and most of the other children.
They were not taken to Calcutta every summer, they did not have parents who were clinging to another way of life and exhorting their children to do the same. Because of Deborah, they were exempt from all that, and for this reason I envied them. She had cut off her beautiful long hair by then, and had a bob. I began to grow out of my girlhood, entering middle school and developing crushes on the American boys in my class. The characters, Lahiri has said in interviews, lived with her for a decade, and their presence feels imprinted in these pages as if by letterpress….
In these three stories, Lahiri experiments with point of view. Forsaking her usual third-person narrator, she goes for the intimate whispers of first person.
About Unaccustomed Earth
Lahiri is a literary heir of Anthony Trollope in her ability to capture the way we live now. Wonderful prose and masterful delineation of character. Louis Post-Dispatch. Lahiri again delicately writes of the Bengali immigrant experience, perfectly communicating the tension between the ideals of transplanted parents and the ones of their American children, in the short story format that made her so popular in the first place.
Lahiri details with quiet precision the divide between American-born children and their Bengali parents. Beautifully rendered…. Unaccustomed Earth explores the dilemmas faced by Bengali immigrants in the west, yet its appeal is universal.
Lahiri takes the reader from Massachusetts to Italy to London to Thailand as her characters discover love, freedom and the heartbreak of leaving one family to create another. Reading her stories is hypnotizing—like falling into a dream where colors are brighter, smells sharper and time moves more slowly than in real life.
The saga of Hema and Kaushik is … a masterfully written and powerful drama. Just couples and families joining, coming apart, dealing with immigration, death, and estrangement. This is true of her debut short-story collection, Interpreter of Maladies which won a Pulitzer in ; her novel, The Namesake a best seller turned Mira Nair film ; and her new book, Unaccustomed Earth —eight mature stories each stretching almost to novella length…. Lahiri writes often of illnesses, failing marriages, and just plain loneliness, but thanks to her economy and mastery of detail, it never quite crosses over into the sentimental.
Nor does it rely on the melodramatic twists that are staples of more middlebrow writers. Unaccustomed Earth will only burnish that estimable reputation. Her prose style is graceful, elegant, understated.
Like Alice Munro, Lahiri is adept at handling chronology, ranging backward and forward in time, compressing lifetimes into a single artfully crafted paragraph. Relish this gorgeous collection. Much of the older generation seeks to honor tradition, and the younger seeks to explore personal choices…. Like Jane Austen, Lahiri is brilliant at describing ambivalent emotions….
The stories are so richly detailed in their accounting of time, and so socially layered, that the meeting feels convincingly like destiny…. In exquisitely attuned prose, Lahiri notes the clash between generations….
These are unforgettable people, their stories unforgettably well told. Faltering or triumphant, each tugs at the heart. So thoroughly and judiciously does she use detail that she easily presents entire lives with each story. These are tales of careful observation and adjustment…. Most moving is the final trio of intertwined stories about loss and connection.
In these eight exquisitely detailed stories, Lahiri is less interested in painful family conflicts than in the private moments of sadness that come in their aftermath. Subtle and wise, Lahiri captures a universal yearning. Her new story collection, Unaccustomed Earth , should have no problem upholding her reputation…. The title story takes on a young mother nervously hosting her widowed father, who is visiting between trips he takes with a lover he has kept secret from his family.
What could have easily been a melodramatic soap opera is instead a meticulously crafted piece that accurately depicts the intricacies of the father-daughter relationship.
Recommended for all public libraries. An inspired miniaturist, Lahiri creates a lexicon of loaded images. One reviewer said that the author explores the secrets of the human heart. So true. Hardcover Verified Purchase. The stories from this collection are outstanding! I can't believe I originally found this book in a thrift store and bought it on a whim. I was so captivated by it, but left it at the transit station one day and had to buy it again.
This was my first encounter with the literature of Jhumpa Lahiri, and it's no wonder this book got me hooked as a fan. One person found this helpful. I had delayed reading this book and made a mistake in doing so! The characters are so thoughtfully developed, the reader is instantly drawn into the themes of self-identity and struggles for discernment and direction.
The Bengali culture of the characters sets the framework but in a way that both universalizes and personalizes the experiences of each individual. The short-story framework allows Ms. Lahiri to quickly create new settings that seem simultaneously familiar and foreign--to both the reader and the characters themselves. Definitely worth reading and discussing with others. I feel I come to know the two main characters, their needs, struggles, losses and mistakes that have shaped them.
The language itself keeps me seeing places, people, food and different kinds of love and destruction in a way that always seems fresh. I am a Lahira fan and for me these three stories represent her best work. Jhumpa Lahiri doesn't disappoint with this one- Just like in "The Namesake", you end up seeing the pov of all the characters, which is not an easy thing for the author to get the readers to do. The last trilogy, "Hema and Kaushik", is just heartbreaking!
I'm not much for short stories, but I make an exception for any book written by Jhumpa Lahiri. Unaccustomed Earth consists of eight stories that touch on the universal themes of life and death, arranged marriages versus love matches, mixed marriages and unfaithful partners, obedient children and wayward children, and looking for happiness in the face of loneliness.
But Lahiri's books are also colored with the hues of Bengali culture--food, clothing, traditions, etc. It is this difference along with her beautiful prose that makes her stories so rich. The last three stories could be a novella and are my favorites. Hema and Kaushik are thrown together as children, but then don't see each other for decades.
They each have a chapter in their own voice. The final chapter has them together as adults as they look back over their lives and try to determine their futures. The ending is especially moving.
Jhumpa Lahiri writes more beautifully than almost any modern-day author. She also expertly and simply describes the feelings of every-day people. When a widower-father visits his daughter, he thinks that "he wanted to shield her from the deterioration that inevitably took place in the course of a marriage, and from the conclusion he sometimes feared was true: I would have to agree.
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