Monday, July 28, 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri: Unaccustomed Earth

Soon, likewise, my old native town will loom upon me through the haze of memory, a mist brooding over and around it; as if it were no portion of the real earth, but an overgrown village in cloud-land, …. Henceforth, it ceases to be a reality, of my life. I am a citizen of somewhere else. - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Jhumpa Lahiri is known for her excellent prose, attention to details, and realism. As readers of this book will find that these short stories, just like life, have no final resolution, they continue to live in the reader's imagination. The book consists of two parts. The first part has five stories, and the second has three stories about the same two protagonists, Hema and Kaushik.

My favourite from this collection is the last three stories about Hema and Kaushik's families, friendships, relationships, and love. These stories provide the perfect culmination of the themes Lahiri discusses in this book. The first story from the trilogy, shows the development of friendship between Hema and Kaushik's parents. In spite of the lack of shared interests, their parents become friends for the sake of their shared Bengali culture. The friendship between the parents show that in the foreign land, away from their blood relatives, people of the same ethnicity act as substitute families.

Kaushik who moved a lot in his childhood sees himself as a man without a country, and chooses a profession that supports his nomadic nature. Just like their parents who bonded over their shared Bengali culture, it is familiarity that reunites Hema and Kaushik. Kaushik realizes that Hema is the only girl, he has ever been with, who has met and known his mother. The last few pages of the trilogy were very hard to read for me, as I knew where the story was headed.

The book, like Lahiri's previous work, left me more sensitive of my surroundings, and in a very introspective state.