Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Unaccustomed Earth", Jhumpa Lahiri

What a stunner it was today when Jhumpa Lahiri's new collection of short stories showed up as No. 1 on the New York Times fiction best seller list. One only need look at the descriptions of the books that follow("wizard detective", "L.A. women murdered", "a woman becomes enmeshed in complications and secrets", "prisoner on death row begins performing miracles", "a London woman loses her memory" etc.) to be reminded how unlikely this is. The NYT itself in a sidebar notes "It's hard to remember the last serious well-written work of fiction, especially a book of stories, that leapt straight to number 1".

"Unaccustomed Earth" is welcome reading to fans of her previous two books. The writing is elegant and the nuanced detail of her characters is engaging. The words culture and fate, followed by acceptance, acquiescence, defiance, and nobility all come to mind in considering the various ways these characters react and how they confront situations that range from tragic to the tedium of the everyday. It's wonderful reading but I wonder how Lahiri's writing will progress. "Unaccustomed Earth" works the same loop of experience as her previous writing but uses a few more references to recent events as facilitators to the stories, at times in a convenient way.

Has she created her own literate genre that will continue to replenish itself. Will her future work follow the generational path of her subjects in a way that will continue to build her following. I ask these questions because as much as these observant stories held my attention, they also were familiar and comfortable. Her prior work had raised my expectations higher.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You describe Lahiri's writing with great appreciation, and yet you somehow seem as if you were letdown by this book. Would you see the same limitations to the "loop of experience" of an American whose culture you, by your name and location, are familiar with.

1:53 PM  
Blogger John Borden said...

Good question. I considered that as I wrote my brief comments, but decided to go ahead and write what I thought.

1:31 PM  

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