Jhumpa Lahiri's latest collection of short stories Unaccustomed Earth comes at a great time for my library. We are featuring short stories in our summer reading program for adults, and it is great to have something new and brilliant to tout. Lahiri has excelled with this group of tales about the difficult relationships of Bengali immigrants to America who wish to preserve their culture and their children who long to assimilate.
I listened to the collection read by Sarita Choudhury and Ajay Naidu. In the both the first and the final stories, the two readers alternate as Lahiri has two voices telling these poignant stories. The first is the title story, which features an academically gifted daughter who has married late and is a new mother rather isolated in a new community. Her widowed father comes to visit and starts a garden for her. She wonders whether this is a sign that he expects her to offer him permanent place in her home, as a daughter would back in India. She is uncertain what cultural rules still apply.
Lahiri tries out a variety of scenarios in the collection In "Only Goodness," a brother and sister drift apart as they react very differently to their Bengali parents expectations. Both choose non-Bengali mates with opposite results. In "A Choice of Accommodations," a Bengali man reluctantly returns with his wife to the private school that he attended. The draw is the wedding of the schoolmaster's daughter, an attractive woman that he always worshiped from afar.
The collection ends with three interconnected stories about two Bengali children and their lives over thirty years. Hema's family gives Kaushik's family rooms while they look for their own house in the Boston area. While the families drift apart over cultural differences, Hema and Kauchik loosely bond in the first story. The story is written as a letter from Hema to Kauchik, who she remembers and wishes she could see again. In the second story, Kauchik wishes he could tell Hema about what has happened to him in his life. In the final melancholy story they do meet again. The book cover has meaning after you read this story.
Public libraries should definitely have this outstanding collection and use it to introduce readers to their short story collections.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. Unaccustomed Earth. Knopf, 2008. ISBN 9780307265739
8 compact discs. Books on Tape, 2008. ISBN 9781415943564