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Unaccustomed Earth Eight Stories Longer And Emotionally Complex Than Any Lahiri Has Yet Written That Take Us From Cambridge And Seattle To India And Thailand As They Enter The Lives Of Sisters And Brothers, Fathers And Mothers, Daughters And Sons, Friends And LoversFrom The Internationally Best Selling, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author, A Superbly Crafted New Work Of Fiction Eight Stories Longer And Emotionally Complex Than Any She Has Yet Written That Take Us From Cambridge And Seattle To India And Thailand As They Enter The Lives Of Sisters And Brothers, Fathers And Mothers, Daughters And Sons, Friends And LoversIn The Stunning Title Story, Ruma, A Young Mother In A New City, Is Visited By Her Father, Who Carefully Tends The Earth Of Her Garden, Where He And His Grandson Form A Special Bond But He S Harboring A Secret From His Daughter, A Love Affair He S Keeping All To Himself In A Choice Of Accommodations, A Husband S Attempt To Turn An Old Friend S Wedding Into A Romantic Getaway Weekend With His Wife Takes A Dark, Revealing Turn As The Party Lasts Deep Into The Night In Only Goodness, A Sister Eager To Give Her Younger Brother The Perfect Childhood She Never Had Is Overwhelmed By Guilt, Anguish, And Anger When His Alcoholism Threatens Her Family And In Hema And Kaushik, A Trio Of Linked Stories A Luminous, Intensely Compelling Elegy Of Life, Death, Love, And Fate We Follow The Lives Of A Girl And Boy Who, One Winter, Share A House In Massachusetts They Travel From Innocence To Experience On Separate, Sometimes Painful Paths, Until Destiny Brings Them Together Again Years Later In Rome Unaccustomed Earth Is Rich With Jhumpa Lahiri S Signature Gifts Exquisite Prose, Emotional Wisdom, And Subtle Renderings Of The Most Intricate Workings Of The Heart And Mind It Is A Masterful, Dazzling Work Of A Writer At The Peak Of Her Powers Lahiri s always going to write beautiful, dense stories but many of the stories felt very similar, same settings, same cultural clashes, same upper middle class, exclusive college educated people angst Nonetheless, I quite enjoyed the book I would read it again. The title of Lahiri s latest book Unaccustomed Earth refers to the first story in this collection but also to a motif dominating all of the stories tales about a world unaccustomed to the shifts and changes taking place on its surface, a world uncomfortable with the destruction and loss brought on by hurricanes and tsunamis, unfamiliar with modern diseases and traumas, and unsure about the class and cultural conflicts that dominate relationships in the lives of Lahiri s characters The earth th The title of Lahiri s latest book Unaccustomed Earth refers to the first story in this collection but also to a motif dominating all of the stories tales about a world unaccustomed to the shifts and changes taking place on its surface, a world uncomfortable with the destruction and loss brought on by hurricanes and tsunamis, unfamiliar with modern diseases and traumas, and unsure about the class and cultural conflicts that dominate relationships in the lives of Lahiri s characters The earth that we now inhabit, Lahiri seems to be saying, is one that our ancestors would not recognize Despite the uniqueness of modern society, the emotions and situations that Lahiri depicts are universal Since reading her Pulitzer Prize winning 1999 collection, Interpreter of Maladies, I have believed that Lahiri is one of the best writers of our generation, and like her 2003 novel, The Namesake Unaccustomed Earth provides onlyevidence of this fact What makes Lahiri s work so accomplished and simultaneously riveting is that, unlike her literary peers, Lahiri isconcerned with substance than style Her stories are about real people rather than quirky characters or odd situations people we know, people we love and hate The stories are about those we care about most letting us down because they are incapable of having healthy relationships like Rahul in Only Goodness and Farouk in Nobody s Business And they are about parents who return to us or finally abandon us like the father in Year s End There are no gimmicks in Lahiri s prose, no writing with a capital W, the kind that so annoyingly drawsattention to itself than its characters This is simply straightforward storytelling about issues to which we all can relate And, in that way, every one of the eight stories in Unaccustomed Earth does exactly what Stephen King said great stories do when he was hawking the 2008 edition of Best American Short Stories in The New York Times Book Review last fall they grab us and make us hold on tight, they come at us full bore, like a big, hot meteor screaming down from the Kansas sky But it s not only that Lahiri pulls us in emotionally, it s that she makes us reconsider our choices and reflect on them by making connections between her fictional characters and our own experiences She navigates the personal and the political, and the stories touch on a variety of issues we care about marriage, divorce, death, disease, dislocation As in her first collection, the stories in Unaccustomed Earth take on the contemporary question of liminality and hyphenation Who are we when we are not one person, but not another When we are both at the same time What does it mean to be from a place but not of it Why do we resist the unknown In Going Ashore, she demonstrates how it is that one might find oneself without a cultural home, nomadic not by choice but by circumstance In some ways, the difference between this collection and The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies which both seem, in some ways, to wax nostalgic about immigration is that Lahiri isantagonistic about issues of diaspora, not only bringing them out of the closet and wearing them in public, but also getting them dirty, ripping the seams out, and showing us how they re constructed An inherent criticism of those who resist assimilation is an underlying premise of the book Unlike one of the most moving stories in her first collection, The Third and Final Continent which, in some ways, reads like a love letter to arranged marriage several of Lahiri s stories in this book take aim at the practice Heaven Hell tells the story of a woman who tries to burn herself alive after falling in love with her husband s young prot g , a man closer to her in age than her own spouse And in the title story, the father of the protagonist falls in love with another woman after his wife s death the first time he has ever truly been in love an emotional shift that allows him to connectfully with his daughter This theme reappears in the three outstanding stories that make up Part Two Hema and Kaushik In these connected stories, Lahiri gives the reader not one, but two marriages based on convenience rather than love But Lahiri never hits us over the head with these messages, and sometimes they are so subtle that we have to be on the lookout in order to see the meaning that lies under each story s surface Nancy Zafris, former fiction editor of The Kenyon Review, said once that great stories must always be telling two orstories in a way that disguises for a while the real story, and Lahiri has learned this lesson well, layering every story with numerous complexities In Nobody s Business, an American graduate student discovers that his Indian housemate s boyfriend, an Egyptian, has been cheating on her for years When the American inserts himself into this drama, he finds his help is unwanted Even though it is the philandering boyfriend who tells him, I didn t invite you here, the reader still feels violated by the American s unwanted presence On the one hand, we hope the American can help his Indian housemate, but at the same time, we want to tell him to get lost, raising the question of whether it is better to turn a blind eye to the problems of others or try to help them out of the messes in which they find themselves There are other implicit criticisms of the U.S in the book as well According to the narrator of Once in a Lifetime, America is known first as a place where class differences were irrelevant, but as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that under the surface, the petty jealousies and judgments that affect relationships between people from different social strata still fester, a theme also echoed in A Choice of Accommodations earlier in the book The stories similarly criticize human selfishness showing parents who put their own needs first, children who are hung up on petty resentments, partners who feel little for their spouses, individuals who use each other for their own gain And like people who are honest about their vulnerability, their fallibility, the reader cares for these flawed characters evendeeply as a result, grieving when they grieve, loving when they love This unyielding sense of empathy is accomplished most powerfully in the stories about Hema and Kaushik After uncovering a row of tombstones in the woods behind young Hema s suburban home, a sixteen year old Kaushik tells her that he wishes that his family wasn t Hindu so that his mother could be buried somewhere, a place where presumably they could like the family he has uncovered under snow and fallen leaves all be together again It is this scene that stays with me long after I have finished the book, calling to mind again and again the metaphor uniting the collection earth that is not accustomed and raising the question of how we push this world, and those who inhabit it, to accommodate our all too human whims and desires.This review first appeared in Cairn 43 The St Andrews Review As I progressed through the first four stories, I becameandangry I couldn t understand why Lahiri would put out another book that was almost identical to to her first She seemed to have retreated even further into her safe space , writing only about Bengali Americans who study at ivy league schools, have well educated albeit maladjusted parents and struggle with redefining relationships after relocation I expected a lotwhen I read the title and its reference to Nathaniel Ha As I progressed through the first four stories, I becameandangry I couldn t understand why Lahiri would put out another book that was almost identical to to her first She seemed to have retreated even further into her safe space , writing only about Bengali Americans who study at ivy league schools, have well educated albeit maladjusted parents and struggle with redefining relationships after relocation I expected a lotwhen I read the title and its reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne s quote I expected she d do justice to the idea, but nope The themes are repetitive and hackneyed, the female characters are extremely weak which bothered my feminist sentimentality no end and alcohol abuse seems to have become her chosen metaphor for all inner turmoil In fact, she doesn t even do justice to the same hackneyed themes she addresses relationships father daughter, brother sister etc but doesn t address any of the other usual suspects when it comes to immigrant struggles race, sexuality, discrimination, social cultural identity etc On the other hand, the writing was fluid and at some points, I found her flair for tragedy quite impressive She does address some of the darker aspects of loneliness, human awkwardness and tragedy especially delicately and manages to bring across her idea without unnecessarily complicating and cluttering her writing These eight short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri are quiet, penetrating, and meticulously written The first five stories are distinct, while the last three are interrelated Lahiri s prose seems so clean and precise that it is very easy to turn page after page despite the fact that her stories are not really plot driven Rather, each story delves into the psyche of each character with such skill that the reader can t help but feel extremely intimate with each one, whether male or female, likable or o These eight short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri are quiet, penetrating, and meticulously written The first five stories are distinct, while the last three are interrelated Lahiri s prose seems so clean and precise that it is very easy to turn page after page despite the fact that her stories are not really plot driven Rather, each story delves into the psyche of each character with such skill that the reader can t help but feel extremely intimate with each one, whether male or female, likable or otherwise Lahiri s characters are predominantly Bengalis that have moved from India to America Some of her protagonists are the children of these Bengalis and themes may focus on the struggle to assimilate and the conflicts between the values of the parent and the desires of the children to pave their own way These and other themes feel far reaching, however, and the reader may recognize and understand many of the feelings, battles and tensions quite personally Mother daughter relationships as well as other parent child connections, alcoholism, illness, raising children, love, marriage, separations, and death are all deftly scrutinized Overwhelmingly, however, I recognized a sense of melancholy and loneliness in these characters as they sought to belong and to pursue their dreams One of my favorite stories in the collection was the title story Unaccustomed Earth , one about a young mother, Ruma, who renews her relationship with her father after her mother s death not a spoiler Ruma sets aside her career to move across the country to raise her young family She craves a sense of happiness that seems always out of reach A visit from her previously aloof father sheds a different light on this parent as the daughter watches him form a strong and loving bond with his grandsonGrowing up, her mother s example moving to a foreign place for the sake of marriage, caring exclusively for children and a household had served as a warning, a path to avoid Yet this was Ruma s life now 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 that the entire enterprise of having a family, of putting children on this earth, as gratifying as it sometimes felt, was flawed from the start The last three, interrelated stories are probably the most poignant of all Hema and Kaushik , also the names of the two protagonists, covers an expanse of time from when the two meet as children until their paths cross once again later in life on another continent As children, Hema and Kaushik are forced together by circumstances and a friendship between parents which developsout of a sense of a need to belong than to a true sense of affinity Kaushik has a strong attachment to his mother and this will affect his choices and his feelings right into and through adulthood A chance encounter brings Hema and Kaushik back together after many years What draws one person to another Is it destiny or some link to one s past that can t be severedTheir parents had liked one another only for the sake of their origins, for the sake of a time and place to which they d lost access Hema had never been drawn to a person for that reason, until now I highly recommend this book if you enjoy short stories that have a wealth of depth despite their length, characters that are superbly drawn, and wonderful writing Based on the first story and last set of stories, I would rate this book with 5 stars However, as not all stories within the collection were right at the 5 star mark, although certainly worthy in their own right, I am giving this 4 stars This is not my first Lahiri work and will most certainly not be my last

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