Although I haven’t yet read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize winning Interpreter of Maladies, after reading Unaccustomed Earth, I can understand why the committee was so impressed with her writing. Her stories of the Bengali immigrant experience were very well developed, and they had closure to them, something I’ve noticed is often times lacking in modern short stories. All the characters in the book have similar backgrounds — high intelligence and high potential — yet each story was unique. Each character was struggling with his or her own set of issues, most of them due to the individuals’ adjustment, or lack thereof, of living in a culture so different from their own or that of their parents.
Themes explored include family, loyalty, duty, and honor. Relationships encountered were father and daughter, husband and wife, brother and sister, roommate to roommate, and childhood friend to childhood friend. Birth, life, marriage, children, divorce, and death. These few stories covered a wide range of experiences of the Bengali immigrant living in America and illustrated well how being Bengali shaped the characters’ choices.
Highly recommended. I will definitely be reading Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake at a later date.
2008, 333 pp.