Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of eight stories, the epigraph of which has been drawn from the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne:
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.
As with the majority of anthologies, these stories sink into dreary, repetitive monotony after a few pages of strong writing. They are not only held together by a singular theme, but resemble factory-line manufactured plots: successful second-generation American Bengali experiences conflict with first-gen parents and marries two-dimensional white character; is often haunted by a figure from the past. They are all the one and the same.
To be fair, Hell-Heaven is a genuinely good read and Nobody’s Business would have been bearable if it weren’t for the pretentious, casual references to Lattimore’s Homer and A Tale of Two Cities. Those tossed-about classics hold no real significance in relation to the plot, nor do they impress the reader. What is she trying to do? Prove that the majority of her characters aren’t flimsy cardboard? Put her M.A. in Literature to good use?
Part II of the anthology, aptly titled Hema and Kaushik after its two protagonists, is also worth reading. I usually find second-person narration teeth grindingly annoying, but here it was a pleasant surprise.
I think Lahiri does have a gift for capturing the quiet anxieties of everyday people; however, I find myself wondering whether she will ever break free from her Bengali immigrant-experience mould. If The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies are of a similar timbre, I’ll be staying away from them for sure.
» This book was read as a part of my Summer Reading project