25 October, 2021

Best/Worst Surprise Endings

Unaccustomed Earth
Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2008 collection has  rightly been called “a testament to
[Lahiri’s] emotional wisdom and consummate artistry.” Together these   eight stories mine the impermanence and loss that encroach on the lives of its characters, creating an elegiac mood that stays behind long after the book is finished. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise, I suppose, when reaching the end of the collection I was stunned by the direction the author chose. The book is divided into two parts, the first of which
covers territory not unlike that of Lahiri’s debut collection, “Interpreter of Maladies,” the architecture of families and  assimilation, the uncertainties of love, and the lives young people at loose ends.

In contrast, Part Two focuses solely on two characters, Hema and Kaushik,
second-generation Bengali-Americans who, as children, meet through their parents, grow apart and then unexpectedly reconnect as adults. Over the three stories that comprise Part Two, we see their lives unfold, and the temporary and uncertain nature of their relationship that artfully touches on what have become Lahiri’s classic concerns: acculturation and the transitory nature of love and attachment. Read these stories to savor the precision of the emotional portrayal, but be prepared to be caught off guard by the turn that is so artfully portrayed.

-Lauren Alwan

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