For me, Indian fiction is irresistible and Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing draws me within her fictional worlds. I had read Namesake which was an excellent book with a rare story of Indian immigrants in America. Unaccustomed Earth is pretty much written on the same lines with the only exception that it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. Its worth spending your time and money over and its a really wonderful read.
The book is divided into 2 parts with Part One having 5 short stories about Indian immigrants of different ages, genders, and spanning across generations. The stories are set all over the U.S. While Part Two is a short immigrant love story of Hema and Kaushik.
In Part One, the first story Unaccustomed Earth is about a husband and his daughter coping with the wife/mother’s death and how her death allows him to travel while the daughter worries about taking care of her father.
In the second story, Hell-Heaven, a married woman falls in love with a younger man who does not reciprocate this love and instead marries an American.
A Choice Of Accommodation, the third story narrates the loss of love between a married Indian-American couple and how they regain that love. The fourth one, Only Goodness is a story of a sister trying to protect her brother from alcoholism yet shunning him at the same time because of his addiction. It gives a unique look at a brother-sister relationship.
The last story, Nobody’s Business is a singular story of an Indian woman living as a roommate with Americans and who is in love with an Egyptian.
Part Two has three chapters which tell a love story that develops between Hema and Kaushik over the years, yet one that ends in tragedy.
The first thing that hits the reader in the face is that these stories do not have a rosy picture. There is a fragmented despair and utter sadness, even isolation and depression that pervades each story. They do not have a single aspect of the American Dream. There is conflict in each story, a loss of identity, a strong sense of disillusionment or even anger. Unaccustomed Earth provides harsh glimpses into the immigrants’ world which is unexpected as the majority of readers would expect a happy, better life in America than in India. Materially, the families are well off in each story but never emotionally or spiritually.
Although Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of short stories, the characters really come alive in each of them. Jhumpa Lahiri’s fine writing brings out nuances, peculiar qualities, different characteristics that makes the reader easily form a clear picture of the characters in their mind (just like in Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry). Her writing is undoubtedly superb and elegant. It effortlessly captures the essence of Indian immigrant life in America (just like it did in the Namesake) It is a definite must read for all lovers of Indian fiction writing and for all those who love literature.
One warning for all who want to pick up the book to read: Unaccustomed Earth requires a great deal of concentration and it is not our typical kind of ‘happy’ book, so for those who are looking for a happy, rosy read, please don’t bother to read this collection of short stories.
For others who would love to venture beyond the usual and read something thought provoking, might find this book just right!
This post is part of the Pardesi series that highlights immigrant experiences.
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