Unaccustomed Earth

For me, Indian Fiction is irresistible and Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing draws me, attracts me to read her novels. 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.

Taken from amazon.com

The book is divided into 2 parts with Part One having 5 short stories about Indian immigrants of different age, gender, generation and they are all 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 away at the same time because of his addiction. It gives a curious look at brother-sister relationship. The last story,’Nobody’s Business’  is a singular story of an Indian woman living as a roommate  with Americans who is in love with an Egyptian. Part Two has three chapters which narrate a singular love story that develops between Hema and Kaushik over the years yet 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 and 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 immigrant’s 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 good 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’) Its 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 want to peruse only for fun and past time, please don’t bother to read ‘Unaccustomed Earth’. For others who would love to venture beyond the usual, stereotypical books, might find this book just right!

The Shadow Lines

One word that can best describe ‘The Shadow Lines‘ by Amitav Ghosh is-Nostalgia. The opening lines set the tone of the book. It seems less of a novel and more of an elaborate anecdote from a family’s history. Its narration is very lifelike. The reader feels as if the events in the book are being narrated right there orally by an actual person. The book has an old world charm to it and seems authentic.

The Shadow Lines‘ is set in Calcutta and takes one to places like Dhaka, Delhi, London etc. The narrator recalls the events of his life. He recalls Tridib, Ila, his parents, his grandparents. These recollections focus on 1 single event that possibly marred his life. These recollections seem random and purposeless but that is not so. The end of the book  is when these recollections start making sense and the reader understands why the narrator is talking about them. The nostalgia that the book evokes is incomparable to anything I have read. It has a curious sense of history, a tender love for the past and all things familiar in childhood and the good old days. The writing is simple, descriptive and beautiful.

The only con noticeable is the difficulty of establishing a chronology. The narrator jumps from one event happening in the present to another that happened 10 years ago to another that happened about 2 or 3 years ago. There are extracts from different time periods and about different people which can be difficult to piece together.

Other than that, ‘The Shadow Lines‘ is a good book suffused with nostalgia.

2 States-The Story of My Marriage

Chetan Bhagat is quite a good and popular author in India. His books have been bestsellers and his latest book, ‘2 States-the story of my marriage’ followed suit. So even if I give a bad review, people will still buy and read the book and that is the power of Chetan Bhagat’s popularity. Well, thankfully, my review is a mixed one. I enjoyed ‘2 States’. It is a pleasurable read.

In a nutshell, ‘2 States’ is a love story that blooms in the IIM(Indian Institute of Management), Ahmedabad. Krish falls in love with Ananya Swaminathan who is ‘the best girl in the fresher batch.’ After a few conversations and good, humourous pick up lines, Ananya starts liking Krish. They want to get married but alas! marriage in India is not that simple. Love marriages are a big no-no. What’s more, Krish is a Punjabi and Ananya is a Tamil Brahmin. An inter regional love marriage? That’s an even bigger no-no. The two are caught between their love and their families. They are resolute to marry with their families’ blessing. So will they be able to convince their families to let them marry each other? That’s what the story is about.

‘2 States’ is a witty book, quite hilarious. It is light, fun novel and written in a contemporary style which any urban Indian will connect to. ‘2 States’ excites the reader with its romantic angle but it is only mediocre. Don’t get me wrong, the book is good but just not that good. For once, it is highly predictable and I don’t mean only in terms of predicting a happy ending but also in terms of  predicting how Krish and Ananya convince their parents to accept their love. At one point in the novel, the entire plot becomes clear. Secondly, it is replete with stereotypes about South Indians and Punjabis.

So, in all, ‘2 States’ is a good, mediocre, fun read but really nothing more than that. The hilarity and the wittiness saves the book from being a disastrous romance novel!

Oh Shit Not Again!

As I said in the post of ‘Keep Off The Grass’, that I love Indian writers and that there is something about their writing that I relate to. However with the book,’Oh Shit, Not Again!’ that is clearly not the case. Written by Mandar Kokate, it lacks in all departments-the storyline, the plot, writing style and the characterization. I will not recommend this book to anyone. The title says it all when it comes to the quality of the story. I wonder how it became a national bestseller.

The story is about four friends. Raj, Arti, Seema and Sam who get involved in all sorts of tricky situations form being caught watching porn or getting involved in murder. The story could have been better if the writing wasn’t so amateurish. It seems rather devoid of concreteness. The plot also fails miserably. It isn’t capturing, hilarious or twisted in any way. The characters have no depth except one or two major qualities. The story is also replete with numerous cliches and stereotypes. Raj’s character comes out not as a ‘flirt chap’ but as a complete pervert which is rather disconcerting.

Thus, Mandar Kokate should stick to civil engineering. He tries way too hard to sound like a writer in the book. And trust me, using big words doesn’t make one a writer. ‘Oh Shit, Not Again’ is a very poorly written book. I do not think it is worth reading. let alone buying!  So, just avoid it!