Unaccustomed Earth

Jhumpa Lahiri

I have to admit I felt bored with the first part of this short story collection. Not really because the stories themselves were boring to me — Lahiri has a consistently elegant storytelling approach that I enjoy — but because the consistency itself pulls it down as a collection. It’s almost like each story arcs in such a similar fashion that they seem to be the same. Then most of the stories are centered around middle- to upper-middle-class, first- or second-generation Bengali-Americans, usually living in the Northeast US, so they kind of are the same.

But there are two parts to this book: the first is the group of stories that have nothing to do with each other (yet kind of feel like the same story) and second is three “stories” that comprise the tale of Hema and Kaushik. Even though this second part is not drastically different in subject matter, character type, or setting, it did feel like a break to me. The stories can’t really stand apart from each other, but they are distinct in voice alone. In the first Hema speaks to Kaushik, then Kaushik to Hema, and a good twenty years later they are brought back together unexpectedly. Lahiri seems to tap into something deeper here, even if many of the nagging consistencies are still there. It might just be letting the characters talk to each other that drew me in.

I poked through reviews, and it seems that a lot of people love this collection while there are also many disappointed in the lack of breadth. I can definitely see that perspective too, but Hema and Kaushik took me out on a high note.