Across the Earth: Lahiri's new collection of stories spans the globe | Culture Features | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
The Source Weekly’s reporting is made possible by the power of your support. Be a part of it!
Search
Settings
Pin It
Favorite

Across the Earth: Lahiri's new collection of stories spans the globe 

Toward the end of Jhumpa Lahiri's mournful, deeply satisfying new collection of stories, two Bengali lovers visit a museum in an Italian town founded by

  Toward the end of Jhumpa Lahiri's mournful, deeply satisfying new collection of stories, two Bengali lovers visit a museum in an Italian town founded by Etruscans. There, amidst dusty sarcophagi, they discover shelves lined with terra-cotta urns depicting the journey the Etruscans made to this landscape - a landscape since claimed and reclaimed by several other populations. "The sides were covered with carvings showing so many migrations across land," observes Lahiri's narrator, "departures in covered wagons to the underworld." It is a beautiful, yet idealized, image of how people get from here to there. Nothing at all like the scattered, dislocating journey she or her family made to the U.S.

 
"Unaccustomed Earth" is a profound meditation on the emotional undertow of these migrations. Ranging in setting from Seattle to suburban Boston, Rome to the clattering streets of Calcutta, Lahiri's cast of mostly Bengali characters struggles to grow accustomed to their new homes, their new families created by loss sustained in faraway places. In the title story, a recently widowed father flies out to Seattle to visit his daughter, a new mother, ferrying a secret about a woman he has begun to see. "Once in a Lifetime" chronicles a brief time when the Chaudhuri family lived with friends outside Boston while searching for a new home. It later emerges that their house hunting has a haunted edge: Mrs. Chaudhuri has cancer. The home they buy will be the place she dies. 


Throughout "Unaccustomed Earth" a younger generation begins a new life and start new families while their traditions are diluted by American spouses and education. An archipelago of elite American universities stretches throughout the stories; the arrivals hall for the younger generation - Swarthmore, Harvard, M.I.T, Colgate. Here is where Lahiri's characters meet, gravitating toward each other, sometimes pulling apart due to the centripetal force of parental pressure. Few writers of any nationality write a love story as heartbreaking as Lahiri. She did it in her Pulitzer Prize winning "Interpreter of Maladies" and she does again here, several times, especially in the three linked stories which conclude the book.

What makes them so devastating is how often the end of an affair isn't just the collapse of love, but the loss of what that love represents. In the case of the narrator of "Going Ashore," it is a chance to be whole again. Her parents, who moved to the United States, certainly knew they'd be giving up this sense of cohesion for a better life - but by insisting on an Indian husband, they mistakenly assume they can import their old life into a new world without breakages or cracks.

This is an impossible theme to capture in miniature. So while Lahiri paints domestic life with her usual precision, her tales' great power emerges from the way she compresses entire family histories into these stories. Like the work of Alice Munro and William Trevor, her tales read like miniature novels. Finishing them, you almost wish the characters could know that here - in these pages - their lives make a beautiful, if terrible kind of sense.

John Freeman is writing a book on the tyranny of e-mail for Scribner.

Unaccustomed Earth
By Jhumpa Lahiri, New York: Knopf, $25

About The Author

Pin It
Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Sober Holidays

    Sober Holidays

    Abstaining from booze in a town that loves to drink
    • Dec 24, 2019
Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
The Handmade Holiday Market

The Handmade Holiday Market - High Desert Music Hall

Sat., Nov. 28, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Submitting an event is free and easy.

Newsletter Signup

Get Central Oregon daily news
directly in your inbox

Get Social


Latest in Culture Features

  • A Local Marketplace, Online

    • Nov 25, 2020
    Shop-Local platform allows locals to browse dozens of area retailers, all from one place More »
  • For One Nonprofit, the Pandemic Has Meant a Loss of Recipients

    • Nov 11, 2020
    Sparrow Clubs, a local nonprofit organization for medically compromised children, is experiencing a shortage of families to sponsor More »
  • A Circus of a Halloween

    • Oct 29, 2020
    Halloween festivities are ramping up, despite COVID-19 restrictions, and amid this wild year, Venardos Circus is offering some live entertainment. Its “Spooky Spectacular” show in Redmond happens throughout the last week-end of October. More »
  • More »

More by John Freeman

  • Book Review: Frayed Ends of Sanity

    Frayed Ends of Sanity An editor becomes a prisoner of the page in Senselessness "We are all tainted with viral origins," William S. Burroughs once observed. "The whole quality of human consciousness, as expressed in male and female, is basically a virus mechanism." No one understands this idea better than the agitated writer-hero of Horacio Castellanos Moya's "Senselessness," who has taken on the task of editing a 1,001-page oral history of the torture and mutilation of a Latin American country's indigenous population. The man has three months to complete the task - a not unreasonable deadline, if only the sentences of the victims didn't unhinge him so. "I am not complete in the mind" is the first sentence Moya's narrator reads. It comes from a man who watched his wife and children hacked to death by machete. This utterance soon describes the narrator's frame of mind, too. Paranoia rises up within him, clanging like an ever-louder alarm. Something is not right. People are watching him. The secret police know he is in the country. If only he could relax. Feverishly, he tries to seduce one woman after the next, but the images he reads in that day's work of editing combine with his pornographic fantasies in a hideous montage. Moya brilliantly scripts this breakdown. His sentences bulge and seethe, coiling around the parenthetical self-justifications and self-recriminations of his increasingly frenzied narrator. Following each lapse of debauchery the man attacks the report with more empathic gusto. He is a novelist, after all, so he doesn't just tinker with style and language; he must imaginatively place himself at the center of it. He imagines being maimed and murdered; he imagines himself doing the killing and the torturing.
    • Aug 27, 2008
  • Hit the Ground

    Thirty years ago, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami owned a jazz club in Tokyo. It was a tiny place. During the day, he served coffee; at
    • Aug 5, 2008
  • Washed Ashore: Netherland offers an outsiders perspective on the Big Apple

    Outlegged by news networks that never sleep, outsold by the juggernaut of visual entertainment, the novel doesn't bring us the news as it once did.
    • Jun 18, 2008
  • More »

Want to advertise with us?

For info on print and digital advertising, >> Click Here

© 2020 LAY IT OUT INC | 704 NW GEORGIA AVE, BEND, OREGON 97703  |   Privacy Policy

Website powered by Foundation