Unaccustomed Earth Jhumpa Lahiri
" The idea of excess, of being out of control, did not appeal to Sudha. Competence: this was the trait that fundamentally defined her." SEARCH THE SITE
Reviewed by Vanessa Gebbie
Of the eight stories in this collection the title story is my favourite. Four or five reads in and Unaccustomed Earth still gives up its treasures, as each scene seems to contain more and more images and references that deepen the whole. And yet nothing seems placed. This writer’s style appears natural and effortless. The prose flows by smoothly, beautifully. The central character of this story, the first in the collection, is Ruma, a lawyer and second- generation Bengali living in the USA. She is married to an American. They have a child, Akash, who is three, and she is pregnant again. She is very isolated. Her husband’s work has moved them to Seattle, where she knows no one, and Ruma has given up work to look after Akash before he goes to school. Despite herself, she finds herself living the life she was determined to rise above: “Her mother’s example – moving to a foreign place for the sake of marriage, caring exclusively for children and a household – had served as a warning, a path to avoid. Yet this was Ruma’s life, now.” Her husband is away for a week, and she is visited for the first time since her mother’s unexpected death, by her widowed father. The story contains moments of aching poignancy as memories rise up and as Ruma and her father seek to find comfortable common ground. The story switches seamlessly between their two points of view, and between story present and memory. Lahiri explores with great tenderness what it is to be pulled in different directions in the small struggles that surface for them both each day of her father’s short visit.