I am probably not going to have the chance to read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Man Booker Prize longlisted novel ‘The Lowland’ any time soon as it isn’t due to be published in the UK until the end of September so I thought I would try a collection of her short stories instead. ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ contains eight exquisitely written stories. The first half of the collection consists of five stand-alone stories while the second half is more of a novella in three parts featuring the same characters, Hema and Kaushik.
Many of the critics’ reviews on the inside cover of ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ expressed pleasant surprise that a collection of short stories had turned out to be such a commercial success as it is quite rare for such books to sell well. Having now read Lahiri’s stories for myself, I can easily see why she has become such a respected and popular author. The stories focus specifically on the experience of second-generation Bengali migrants in the United States and deal with a narrow set of themes based around cultural differences and generational conflict. My favourite stories were ‘Only Goodness’ which was about a young woman’s relationship with her alcoholic brother and ‘Hell-Heaven’, a tale about a lonely young mother’s secret infatuation with a friend and the devastating consequences this has for her family.
‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is a consistently excellent collection of stories. Lahiri writes perceptively about family relationships from all angles in a style which is elegant, understated and always immensely readable. Her dual citizenship means that she could potentially be the first person to win both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize if ‘The Lowland’ makes it onto the shortlist. Either way, in the meantime, I will definitely be searching out her first collection of short stories ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ and her first novel ‘The Namesake’.