I finally got through and finished the book yesterday. Closing the book, I felt a mix of emotions. I loved Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing style yet there was something about that book that felt incomplete. Not sure if it was because I was expecting something more from the loose trilogy that ended the book.
Now that I have my immediate impressions on the book recorded, let me retrace and start from the beginning. Unaccustomed Earth is a worthy successor to Interpreter of Maladies and Namesake both of which I own. When I realized the waiting list for the book at the library was a mile long, I ordered and got my own copy which arrived the same day I managed to get the one I had placed a hold on at the library. I finished the first four short stories the first day and the rest over yesterday. The common thread that runs through the stories is the Bengali background. Jhumpa explores relationships in the context of parent-child, husband-wife, siblings and lovers. With each story she has managed to blend realism in the characters and the settings. Reading her stories made me feel like the shadow that accompanies each of their characters through their lives. The young wife arriving from India. The grown up woman struggling with her concepts of responsibility towards her parent and the awkwardness at staying in the same home after a long time. The sweet adolescent crush Hema has on Kaushik. The midnight conversations that Hema’s parents hold about their visitors. There were snatches from each of the stories that I could reach out and touch. My inner voice whispered “I know too well.”.
The underlying melancholy that ran in all the indivuidual stories actually enhanced the book appeal for me. But by the time I was reading Kaushik’s version of how he got to Italy I was tired and wanted the book to end. Looking back, a day after reading the book, some characters are imprinted stronger than the others in my mind. The similarity of the Bengali households, Ivy league education, American spouses and the confusion in the protagonists’ minds begins to get a little stale.
In all it is a good read. It could have been exceptional but stopped just short. Highly recommended.