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Book: Unaccustomed Earth
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Random House India
Genre: Human relationships
Price: Rs 295
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Review: ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is the number one New York Times Bestseller, penned by an author who has already made waves with ‘The Namesake’ and ‘Interpreter of Maladies’.
The Pulitzer-prize winning lady Jhumpa Lahiri has made a niche theme for herself. This book traces the same theme with stories and novellas threaded around the Bengali diaspora, living in America.
‘Unaccustomed Earth’ comprises of 6 novellas, all set in some American city and involving protagonists who have their roots in India.
The first story titled ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is painfully good, sentimental, powerful and engaging. Jhumpa Lahiri brings to fore a father-daughter relationship and a grandfather-grandson relationship brilliantly. One week of stay makes an impassive old man fall in love with his toddler grandson, makes a daughter see her father in a new light. Lahiri pens a brutally real tale and adds detailing of the kind we never thought existed.
The second story ‘Hell-Heaven’ is about broken hearts and the many unspoken promises of life. It is about a married lonely Bengali woman, about her young daughter, about her aloof husband, and about a Bengali man who, from a complete stranger, became a part of the family, only to become a complete stranger again.
Lahiri vividly plays with emotions, often ripping apart the bosoms of the female characters and revealing to the readers the scars of the heart that lies beneath.
The third story ‘A choice of accommodations’ is about the ravages that time is capable of inflicting on a marriage. Lahiri describes how despite liking each other, a husband and wife can run out of love over time so easily, and how they can rediscover it years later, almost as easily.
The fourth story ‘Only Goodness’ is about a family that breaks apart; of a floundering relationship between a son and his parents; of a sister who committed an innocent mistake and had to pay forever with a drunkard brother; of a boy who demolishes all hopes of his ageing parents, gets back to the right path, only to get dissuaded. His world desired ‘only goodness’ from him, but he sadly failed to deliver the promises.
Lahiri pens a realistic tale and pours in the kind of simplicity that the much-awaited anti-climax never comes.
The fifth story ‘Nobody’s Business’ is about friendship, love, false love and unrequited love. It us about Paul who cared for Sangeeta (Sang) in a very invisible manner. It is about Sang who fell for the wrong guy, who never cared for Paul. It is about pain, hope, dismay and pain. It is about love in its many cruel forms.
The sixth novella is split into many chapters and explores the lives of Hema and Kaushik. The first chapter ‘Once in a lifetime’ is narrated in the 2nd person style and has yet all the ingredients of an innocent adolescent love. There is an unusual amount of reality to the tale; so much that you feel terrified, lest the author stole all your childhood secrets.
The next chapter ‘Year’s End’ is Kaushik’s reply to Hema’s ‘Once in a lifetime’. Narrated in the first person, it points at the stigmas of someone who has lost his mother and is forced to accept a stepmother and two stepsisters. The tale is poignant and touches most of the hues of human relationships.
‘Going Ashore’ is the final chapter of the novella, recounting the happy-sad moments of Hema and Kaushik’s reunion. Again, Jhumpa Lahiri digs deep into human relationships and threads a dauntingly realistic narration and ends the book with a lump-in-the-throat climax.
“Lahiri’s enormous gifts as a storyteller are on full display….gorgeous”- these words by Khaled Hosseini sum up my feelings nicely. Indeed, a book you cannot help falling in love with.