UNACCUSTOMED EARTH by Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri I read Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, for the 20-minute Book Club portion of my upcoming show on That's How I Blog on Tuesday night. I had read The Namesake – which I loved – but I hadn't read any of Lahiri's short stories before. Nicole of Linus's Blanket, the host of That's How I Blog, had Unaccustomed Earth on her TBR list, so I thought it would be a good pick, and I wasn't disappointed.

Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of eight stories, the final three of which form a sort of novella. The stories touch on typical Lahiri fare: relationships between parents (usually immigrants) and children; the experience of immigration from India (to the "unaccustomed earth" of the title); and love – romantic, familial, or otherwise. The stories are mostly tinged with sadness, but they are wonderfully and richly written, and so compelling that each one kept me eagerly turning pages to its suspenseful close.

Lahiri is a beautiful, understated writer. Her use of detail is perfect – never extraneous, always there to set a scene better, to convey the subleties of conversation or relationships. She has great sympathy for her characters, even when they do things that are not so admirable. She treats them gently, without judgment, just as she did in The Namesake, which makes her stories even more poignant. There are no villains here – just people trying to get through their lives amidst pain and alienation and heartbreak. The stories have varied settings – from comfortable Lahiri venues as Cambridge and Boston to Seattle, London and Rome.

I really loved this book. I am not usually a short story fan, and I think I prefer Lahiri as a novelist over a story writer, only because for me, novels are more memorable and have more of an impact. But these stories were so satisfying on their own that this collection worked.

Highly, highly recommended.

13 Comments

  • March 7, 2010 - 7:17 am | Permalink

    I’m not a short story collection lover only because I’m usually disappointed (I give ’em a try every year). BUT, I loved Unaccustomed Earth, really loved it. It’s on my keeper shelf.

  • Heidi
    March 7, 2010 - 8:43 am | Permalink

    Lahiri is an amazing author. I can’t say enough good things about her. If you loved this try Interpreter of Maladies, too. It’s also short stories but each one is a gem. I’ll add a heretical comment here too: I prefer her short work to her novel, The Namesake!

  • March 7, 2010 - 9:52 am | Permalink

    I’m not a short story fan either, but this collection really intrigues me.

  • March 7, 2010 - 10:12 am | Permalink

    I love Lahiri’s short stories – she really masters the genre. I never liked short stories before reading Interpreter of Maladies but she showed me that when short stories are done well they can impact you even more than a novel.
    Glad you enjoyed Unaccustomed Earth!

  • March 7, 2010 - 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I really, really enjoyed this book. I actually have always loved short stories and this is one of the best collections I’ve read.

  • Sarah
    March 7, 2010 - 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I agree completely. A wonderful collection. Lahiri has turned me into a more enthusiastic reader of short stories than I had been previously. I also recommend “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders,” by Daniyal Mueenuddin. He is a Pakistani author whose writing is simply marvelous. Very dark subject matters, but well worth the read.

  • March 8, 2010 - 5:33 am | Permalink

    I have had my eye on this book for some time, your review has ensured that I will invest in this book asap. Thank you for your recommendations.

  • Kiki
    March 8, 2010 - 9:55 am | Permalink

    It was good! I’ve enjoyed her immensely. I also loved The Namesake, and try Interpreter of Maladies too!

  • March 8, 2010 - 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I really liked these stories but wished I had read them one at a time, rather than pushing through the book as one read.

  • March 9, 2010 - 7:28 am | Permalink

    Great recommendations you have in your blog. @Kiki: i read The Namesake in my native language (romanian), and you`re right: it`s a great and lovable book.

  • March 10, 2010 - 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I read this book sometime towards the end of 2008. There is a underlying current of poignancy that runs through each of the stories but it has been very well written. The last 3 stories were heart wrenching and took me a few days to get over the book.
    Interpreter of Maladies is on TBR list.
    –Suchitra

  • March 11, 2010 - 9:01 am | Permalink

    Glad to hear you enjoyed this one. I think I bought it awhile back at a library sale…I’ll have to check my shelf. I’m really picky about short stories, but now I’m looking forward to this book.

  • March 13, 2010 - 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I was on the fence about whether to read this since I tend to steer away from short stories. After reading your post, I’m now looking forward to reading it. Thanks Gayle!

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *