Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

In Whereabouts, we are introduced to the narrator, a single woman in her mid-forties who is a writer and professor, an astute observer of life around her. With each brief chapter, she shares with us a glimpse of this life, a series of sometimes ordinary, sometimes unsettling experiences that range from a visit to the shore for a friend’s baby’s christening to a trip to the local stationary store that has, to her acute disappointment, suddenly been repurposed as a luggage store. Woven through these stories is an undertone of a guilty resentment toward her aging mother, for feeling criticized all her life for being who she is and for being who she is not.

There are many fascinating aspects of the way Lahiri has chosen to approach the writing of this novel. Leaving her narrator without a name, for example,  universalizes her character – potentially makes her the everywoman of her age and circumstance. She may speak for the middle-aged woman, mulling on her past while contemplating her future.

She is admired by the young and by her peers for her uncluttered independence, but yet she simmers with inner rage. Her mother who is now small and frail looms large and loud in her memory, the ancient critical and jarring comments from her past playing on repeat in her mind, as if they are being uttered today still. It is impossible to forgive but so hard to live with this resentment too.

She participates in groups of friend gatherings, but reports on them as if from afar. She is with them but not of them. It feels as if her rage prevents her from truly connecting to anyone beyond the surface and she cannot overcome this. There is contemplation without real insight, or so it feels. Does this come from the narrator herself or from the fact that she speaks to us through vignettes as opposed to telling us a linear story? Is this disconnect intentional?

And so the telling is as unique as the character herself, which makes for an original, contemplative, and, apparently, Pulitzer-Prize-winning read.

I’m so curious to hear what others think about this one!

The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri (migrated from bookblogger)

Once again, Jhumpha Lahiri has constructed another periscope into the world of Indian history, enabling an outsider like me a glimpse of what it is like to move from the congested, poverty-stricken lowlands of India to the blended and perhaps more bland culture of the West.  This tale begins with 2 brothers, Subhash, who is older and cautious, and Udayan, who is youthful and restless and daring. Although they are extremely close and share almost everything as children, they grow up toward divergent paths.  Subhash stays the course in academia, while Udayan becomes involved in the communist undercurrent that is taking place in India in the 1970’s.  The story unfolds as their paths determine their respective fates, with, of course, a woman and then a child who are caught in the middle.

While this book is well-written, it did not really grab me until deeper in to the story.  The characters are difficult to love.  They are kept at an arm’s length and are not easily accessible.  They are very complicated, though, and it is their depth that intrigued me and kept me with the story.

What I did love about this book is the history that is taught within its pages.  I did not have any prior knowledge of the political landscape of India during the ’70’s and this was enlightening.  It certainly presents a different perspective on the communism of Marx and Mao than I ever hear of as an American.

(I also have to admit that being from Rhode Island, it was really fun to read the many travels around some of my favorite territory — southern RI with the beaches and the marshes.  It was the RI of the 1970’s which is the RI that I lived and even such details as a shopping trip to the Warwick Mall made me smile and remember the shopping outings of my youth.)

Once again, Lahiri has written a winner.  Hope you all enjoy it too!

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (migrated from bookblogger)

This is an excellent book of short stories; nevertheless, it reminds me why I don’t like short stories — I always want more!  This one is unique, though, as (SPOILER ALERT:) there ultimately is a connecting thread to the stories at the end, which satisfied my “need to know!”

And as usual, Lahiri’s writing is beautiful.  Her stories are a window into American-Indian culture, with the recurrent themes of traditional vs. modern, Indian vs. American, and arranged marriages vs. marriages for love.  The writing is very descriptive and one can easily picture each scene as it plays out.  Each character is built so lovingly that the reader has to know what happens and is personally affected by each outcome.

This is a great collection of stories — she could develop a whole book from each one…  I wish she would!