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Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth (2008)

by Jhumpa Lahiri

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,3551861,132 (4.14)350
  1. 100
    Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (reenum)
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    The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (reenum)
  3. 20
    A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies: Stories by John Murray (ShortStoryLover)
    ShortStoryLover: Murray's style of writing in this collection of short stories is similarly subtle to Jhumpa Lahiri's in her short story collections. Several of his stories feature Indian-Americans, and two are set in India.
  4. 20
    Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry (Inesdelreves)
    Inesdelreves: Un incidente sin importancia desencadena una verdadera hecatombe en el seno de la familia. Una novela sobre la importancia del lugar que cada cual ocupa en el mundo
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    Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (chrisharpe)
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    Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays by Eula Biss (Maiasaura)
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    A Person of Interest: A Novel by Susan Choi (tangentialine)

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Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)
This book of short stories (and one novella) is a breath of fresh air. It tells the tales of a number of (mostly) Bengali immigrants to the United States, but the heritage that binds them is far less significant than the experiences that bind them to all of us. Lahiri manages to make each protagonist feel like an everyman, probing wistfully those small but significant occurrences that can somehow unexpectedly send us into questioning our own place in this world. I found it a surprisingly cathartic read and highly recommend it to anyone who is at a point of transition in their life. ( )
  quaintlittlehead | Aug 13, 2017 |
One heartbreaking story after another.... I wish I could give this more than 5 stars. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Aug 6, 2017 |
Lahiri depicts the restraint of her characters perfectly and reveals to us the private desires that cause conflict with the traditions and expectations of Indian cultural and societal norms. But, by doing so, she redefines love and the inevitability of the sorrow it sometimes carries.

She is a queen of dichotomy. Though her characters have inner strength that persist and drive them further into their stories, their strength is also what makes them the victims of their own helplessness.

From Ruma’s father in his inability to share with his daughter, the acknowledgement of his feelings for another woman after the death of his wife. To Ruma, herself, who is unable to recover from her mother’s death, only to cope by denying herself a successful career and a rich relationship with her husband and son. The restraint in the relationship between “Baba” and Ruma contain within its silences and tension, a depth of love and feeling that can only be understood by grief, denial, and the need to protect those you love.

The story of Pranab Chakraborty and Boudi and their unrequited love that evolved within the boundaries of family friendship, compatibility, and all that is lacking in the current marriage to another is a tight-lipped, repressed, and torturous story of one who carries the burden of secret love, while the other remains oblivious to his lover’s personal sacrifice and loss.

The story of Amit and Megan shares the reality of a marriage that has reached its low season dented by babies and the monotony of routine. It also shows how people from the past can resurrect old feelings, yet reassure us that passion can still spring up from the loyalty and trust found in married love.

The story of Sudha and Rahul speak of weakened family ties due to the powerful stronghold of addiction and the loss of relationship and trust that can occur when someone is held by the compulsion of a vice and old stereotypes.

In the story of Sang, Paul, Farsouk, and Deidre, there is truth in the tangles of love, desire, and manipulation. It shows us of the compulsions we have against our better judgement and the inability to see clearly when we feel we are in love.

Lastly, the story of Hema and Kaushik is a small novella that shares with us two opposing lives, which are drawn to each other by family ties and later by circumstance and/or fate. The drama of their passion and love, though restrained by the reality of other entanglements, seem inevitable and, yet, also seem inevitable to suffer a sad demise.

Overall, I found the book, “Unaccustomed Earth” to be filled with good stories, though desolate and bleak. I was inspired by love, but disappointed by the failings of sometimes the characters or the outcome.

Still, after reading the book, I yearned for the stories to continue; for the characters to continue on in their vignettes, if not to provide a glimpse to a more resilient hope of something better for the characters themselves, but also an affirmation that love and lovers actually do “conquer all.”

Compared to Lahiri’s other works, this collection is darker and more sombre in its tone. Your heart will break, but insist in some way that this is the way it must be so. ( )
  ZaraD.Garcia-Alvarez | Jun 6, 2017 |
I often struggle with short story collection, wanting to like them more than I actually do. I am happy to report that Unaccustomed Earth broke the mold. I found each and every one of Lahiri's stories compelling, populated with characters split between cultures, the children of Bengali parents who carve out their identities in places that aren't exactly foreign and aren't exactly home - Seattle or New England or Rome.

Just picking up the book again reminds me of Ruma welcoming her father to stay at her new house in Seattle, for the first time without her mother, and agonizing over whether she should invite him to live out his days with her and her family. There's Sang who daily fields phone calls from Bengali suitors wishing to marry her but who is in love with a philandering Egyptian professor. Usha is captivated by a friend of her parents' who became like family when he sought out his Bengali roots in Boston but who broke her mother's heart when he married an American girl and embraced a new culture. Finally, the collection finishes with a few interlinked stories of Hema and Kaushik, whose parents' friendship brings them into each other's orbits only occasionally during their childhoods in Massachusetts and who are surprised to find a home in each other as adults in Rome, a place that is hardly home to either.

In Unaccustomed Earth, while the characters themselves may still be striving to carve out a place for themselves between generations, readers are treated to fully realized people whose lives and struggles are distilled into only a few powerful pages that leave a lasting impact. ( )
  yourotherleft | May 29, 2017 |
This 2008 book received plenty of accolades upon release, and I think deservedly so. One of the very best collections I've read, the stories are consistently good - the five in Part I and the loosely related three in Part II. The characters are of Bengali-Indian ethnicity, like the author, but make no mistake: these are at center American stories. The dual cultures enliven the narratives, and, for me at least, prompted sympathy for the challenges of assimilation. But we also read of Christmas breaks from college, Gilligan's Island on TV and nights out for hamburgers. A mag review said it well: "So thoroughly and judiciously does she use detail that she easily presents entire lives with each story. These are tales of careful observation and adjustment." ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Mar 9, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)
There is much cultural news in these precisely observed studies of modern-day Bengali-Americans — many of them Ivy-league strivers ensconced in prosperous suburbs who can’t quite overcome the tug of traditions nurtured in Calcutta. With quiet artistry and tender sympathy, Lahiri creates an impressive range of vivid characters — young and old, male and female, self-knowing and self-deluding — in engrossing stories that replenish the classic themes of domestic realism: loneliness, estrangement and family discord.
added by aksanil | editThe New York Times (Mar 12, 2008)
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"Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Customs House
For my parents and for my sister

Vintage 2009 edition: For Octavio, for Noor
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After her mother's death, Ruma's father retired from the pharmaceutical company where he had worked for many decades and began traveling in Europe, a continent he'd never seen.
…I gathered from my parents’ talk that it was regarded as a wavering, a weakness. “They should have known its impossible to go back,” they said to their friends, condemning your parents for having failed at both ends. We had stuck it out as immigrants while you had fled; had we been the ones to go back to India, my parents seemed to suggest, we would have stuck it out there as well.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307265730, Hardcover)

From the internationally best-selling, Pulitzer Prize–winning author, a superbly crafted new work of fiction: eight stories—longer and more emotionally complex than any she has yet written—that take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand as they enter the lives of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers.

In the stunning title story, Ruma, a young mother in a new city, is visited by her father, who carefully tends the earth of her garden, where he and his grandson form a special bond. But he’s harboring a secret from his daughter, a love affair he’s keeping all to himself. In “A Choice of Accommodations,” a husband’s attempt to turn an old friend’s wedding into a romantic getaway weekend with his wife takes a dark, revealing turn as the party lasts deep into the night. In “Only Goodness,” a sister eager to give her younger brother the perfect childhood she never had is overwhelmed by guilt, anguish, and anger when his alcoholism threatens her family. And in “Hema and Kaushik,” a trio of linked stories—a luminous, intensely compelling elegy of life, death, love, and fate—we follow the lives of a girl and boy who, one winter, share a house in Massachusetts. They travel from innocence to experience on separate, sometimes painful paths, until destiny brings them together again years later in Rome.

Unaccustomed Earth is rich with Jhumpa Lahiri’s signature gifts: exquisite prose, emotional wisdom, and subtle renderings of the most intricate workings of the heart and mind. It is a masterful, dazzling work of a writer at the peak of her powers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:16 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Exploring the secrets and complexities lying at the heart of family life and relationships, a collection of eight stories includes the title work, about a young mother in a new city whose father tends her garden while hiding a secret love affair.

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