Book Review: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Human Nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth – Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Custom-House.”

333 Pages. Hardcover.

Rating ****

After winning critical acclaim, loyal readership and multiple honors for her debut book of short stories ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ and her first novel ‘The Namesake’, Jhumpa Lahiri unfurls her third book.

Unaccustomed Earth is a book of short stories that traverse the globe, taking us from Cambridge to Seattle to India and Thailand. The stories are centered around relationships. The relationship of an uprooted immigrant with his alien land. The taut link between traditional parents and their second-generation, confused immigrant children. Fractured relationships which cause heartbreak to invariably follow love. Loveless marriages and detached bonds. All described in Lahiri’s exquisite prose that introduces you to the lives of the people who soon become a part of yours.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part consists of 5 short stories starting with
the opening story also titled ‘Unaccustomed Earth’, about a daughter and her recently widowed father who are awkward around each other without the common thread, the mother and wife, that connected them. They are both surprised by the changes in the other, and even more so by the secret that is gently revealed as the story progresses.

‘Hell-Heaven’ is about discovering love and heart break, after marriage.

‘A Choice of Accommodations’ was a rather vague story about a couple, who attends a friends wedding and reminisce about their own past there.

‘Only Goodness’ is about a brother and sister who grow up together, and then grow apart, with parents as silent witnesses on the sidelines always.

‘Nobody’s business’ tells you about the different shades of love, and the discoveries and heartbreak that follow, through the life of the protagonist called Sang.

Part two, titled Hema and Kaushik illustrates the span of their lives through a trio of linked stories. From when they first meet as malleable children in their home environment of Massachusetts, to when they meet again as inflexible adults on a neutral and transitory land of Rome.

I would have imagined that it would have been difficult, almost impossible even, to top ‘The Namesake’, but with her latest book Lahiri has managed to do so. Tinged with an emotional astuteness and maturity that surprises you, this has to be her best work so far. Each story is like a novelette in itself, rich with detail and emotions that linger in your thoughts long after you’re done reading, making you realize that Jhumpa Lahiri does not write stories, she crafts them.


My very own rating chart;

*Use it as a doorstop.
**Read it if you have nothing better to do.
***You will like it if you like this particular genre of writing.
****Must read!
*****What! You haven’t read it YET !

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