Tag: Jhumpa Lahiri

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  For a synopsis of the book, check out Roberta’s Writer’s Review.

This post does not contains spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Short Story Collection

Unaccustomed Earth is a bit unusual in that it is actually a collection of short stories.  Part One consists of five different stories and Part Two has three stories centered around the same two main characters over the span of several decades.  All the characters are Bengali immigrants adjusting to life in America.

For the most part, Lahiri’s stories were easy to read, with characters keeping secrets and experiencing life’s disappointments and hardships.  Some of the stories were more memorable than others.  A week after reading Part One, I could only remember three of the five short story plots.  In Part Two, the voice changed to first person and took a while to get used to.  Just when I was used to one voice, it changed to the second character’s voice, and then the final chapter was back to third person.

Pervasive Sadness

Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who has a penchant for ending her stories abruptly, with no follow up of the characters.  She likes to leave you guessing as to what happens in the future.  Sometimes that works, but more often I was aggravated.  I wanted more and felt cheated.

While I feel I have a better understanding of how immigrants and their children adjust (or do not adjust) to life in a new setting, Unaccustomed Earth left me sad and depressed, like I’d just spent a week without any sunshine.  Lahiri’s characters reminded me of Eeyore, from Winnie-the-Pooh, always thinking, “Woe is me.”   She would have us believe that immigrants rarely experience joy in their new country.  I hope that is not reality.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Analysis of Unaccustomed Earth

Each writer has different strengths and weaknesses. Let’s examine the book we are reading for The Bestseller Code challenge, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, from a writer’s perspective. (The discussion started here.)

This post contains spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What Unaccustomed Earth is about:

In this collection of eight short stories the author explores how the lives of people are changed as they migrate from place to place, specifically from South Asia to America. Jhumpa Lahiri asks the question whether — as a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne suggests — people thrive when they “strike their roots into unaccustomed earth” instead of being “planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil.”

Narrative

If you are  writer, you have heard the advice over and over to “show, not tell.” Yet, sometimes you need to break the rules. In this case Jhumpa Lahiri has gone into her storytelling roots, mixing showing with big doses of telling.

“She pointed out one of the two bridges that spanned the lake, explaining that they floated on pontoons at their centers because the water was too deep. Her father looked out the window but said nothing. Her mother would have been more forthcoming, remarking on the view, wondering whether ivory curtains would have been better than green.”

Some of the telling results from the constraints of a short story. In a full-length novel Lahiri could have had a scene with mother and revealed her personality with dialogue. In a short story that is a luxury the author can’t afford.

 

unaccustomed earth

Characters

Each short story features conflicts within families. Most of the characters are people of either American and/or Bengali descent. Some of the conflicts arise from differences in cultures, some from differences between the generations, and some come from different goals between men and women in relationships.

Setting

Given that Lahiri is exploring the effect of migration on families, it’s not surprising the  short stories are set in a variety of locations. Most are in New England, but London and India figure in several of the stories. The family in the first short story has moved to Seattle. The characters in the final short story find love/passion in Rome.

The author is writing settings that she knows, because Lahiri was born in London and grew up in New England (Rhode Island).  In 2012 she immersed herself in Italian by moving to Rome, the setting of the last story. On a side note, she became so enthralled by the language that she wrote a memoir in Italian entitled In Other Words, which was translated by Ann Goldstein back to English.

 

Theme

A strong theme running through the stories is people hiding important things from one another. In the first story, “Unaccustomed Earth,” the father goes to great lengths to hide his relationship with a woman he met while traveling from his daughter.  In “Hell-Heaven” the mother hides her infatuation with a male graduate student the family befriended. The passive protagonist in “A Choice of Accommodations” tries to keep his former crush a secret from his wife. A sister covers up the fact her young brother is an alcoholic, not even telling her husband. She sees “Only Goodness.” A man has to choose whether or not reveal to his roommate that her lover is cheating on her in “Nobody’s Business.”  In part two, a family hides the fact the mother is dying of cancer. Later the father reveals to his son he has remarried only after the fact. Finally, a new wife hides her grief over the death of a former lover.

Comments

Even though the characters are from different cultures, they are all universal enough that the reader can relate to them. In fact, the theme of the problems of keeping secrets could apply to anyone. By the end, it is evident that “honesty is the best policy” no matter what the circumstances.

As for the telling/storytelling in the narrative, I found it somewhat difficult to get used to. At times it felt heavy or even pedantic. However, being able to understand and relate to the characters kept me reading.

Did you read Unaccustomed Earth? Did you notice the telling? What did you discover in the short stories?

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Number 89 Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What the book is about:

In this collection of eight short stories the author explores how the lives of people are changed as they migrate from place to place, specifically from South Asia to America. She asks the question whether — as a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne suggests — people thrive when they “strike their roots into unaccustomed earth” instead of being “planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil.”

Have you read Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri? Feel free to add a link to your review here.


__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BookBeginnings Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Today we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-jhumpa-lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What the book is about:

In this collection of eight short stories the author explores how the lives of people are changed as they migrate from place to place, specifically from South Asia to America. She asks the question whether — as a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne suggests — people thrive when they “strike their roots into unaccustomed earth” instead of being “planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil.”

First Sentence of the First Short Story:

“After her mother’s death, Ruma’s father retired from the pharmaceutical company where he had worked for many decades and began traveling in Europe, a continent he’d never seen.”

Discussion:

Isn’t it interesting how much word choice matters? The author makes it clear to the reader that Ruma is the main character by introducing the father by his relationship to Ruma. In fact, the author does not even name him until much further on.

Glancing through the pages, I’m taken by how extensive the descriptions are. The book I read last week, Night Watch, was heavy on dialogue and light on descriptions. It will be interesting to see how the two compare.

How much description do you like in the novels you read?

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