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Unaccustomed EarthAfter 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. In the past year he had visited France, Holland, and most recently Italy. They were package tours, traveling in the company of strangers, riding by bus through the countryside, each meal and museum and hotel prearranged. He was gone for two, three, sometimes four weeks at a time. When he was away Ruma did not hear from him. Each time, she kept the printout of his flight information behind a magnet on the door of the refrigerator, and on the days he was scheduled to fly she watched the news, to make sure there hadn't been a plane crash anywhere in the world.
Occasionally a postcard would arrive in Seattle, where Ruma and Adam and their son Akash lived. The postcards showed the facades of churches, stone fountains, crowded piazzas, terra-cotta rooftops mellowed by late afternoon sun. Nearly fifteen years had passed since Ruma's only European adventure, a month-long EuroRail holiday she'd taken with two girlfriends after college, with money saved up from her salary as a para- legal. She'd slept in shabby pensions, practicing a frugality that was foreign to her at this stage of her life, buying nothing but variations of the same postcards her father sent now. Her father wrote succinct, impersonal accounts of the things he had seen and done: "Yesterday the Uffizi Gallery. Today a walk to the other side of the Arno. A trip to Siena scheduled tomorrow." Occasionally there was a sentence about the weather. But there was never a sense of her father's presence in those places. Ruma was reminded of the telegrams her parents used to send to their relatives long ago, after visiting Calcutta and safely arriving back in Pennsylvania.
The postcards were the first pieces of mail Ruma had received from her father. In her thirty-eight years he'd never had any reason to write to her. It was a one-sided correspondence; his trips were brief enough so that there was no time for Ruma to write back, and besides, he was not in a position to receive mail on his end. Her father's penmanship was small, precise, slightly feminine; her mother's had been a jumble of capital and lowercase, as though she'd learned to make only one version of each letter. The cards were addressed to Ruma; her father never included Adam's name, or mentioned Akash. It was only in his closing that he acknowledged any personal connection between them. "Be happy, love Baba," he signed them, as if the attainment of happiness were as simple as that.
In August her father would be going away again, to Prague. But first he was coming to spend a week with Ruma and see the house she and Adam had bought on the Eastside of Seattle. They'd moved from Brooklyn in the spring, for Adam's job. It was her father who suggested the visit, calling Ruma as she was making dinner in her new kitchen, surprising her. After her mother's death it was Ruma who assumed the duty of speaking to her father every evening, asking how his day had gone. The calls were less frequent now, normally once a week on Sunday afternoons. "You're always welcome here, Baba," she'd told her father on the phone. "You know you don't have to ask." Her mother would not have asked. "We're coming to see you in July," she would have informed Ruma, the plane tickets already in hand. There had been a time in her life when such presumptuousness would have angered Ruma. She missed it now.
Adam would be away that week, on another business trip. He worked for a hedge fund and since the move had yet to spend two consecutive weeks at home. Tagging along with him...
About the Author-
Jhumpa Lahiri is the author of four works of fiction: Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, and The Lowland; and a work of nonfiction, In Other Words. She has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize; the PEN/Hemingway Award; the PEN/Malamud Award; the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award; the Premio Gregor von Rezzori; the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature; a 2014 National Humanities Medal, awarded by President Barack Obama; and the Premio Internazionale Viareggio-Versilia, for In altre parole.
Starred review from January 28, 2008
The gulf that separates expatriate Bengali parents from their American-raised childrenâ€”and that separates the children from Indiaâ€”remains Lahiri's subject for this follow-up to Interpreter of Maladies
and The Namesake
. In this set of eight stories, the results are again stunning. In the title story, Brooklyn-to-Seattle transplant Ruma frets about a presumed obligation to bring her widower father into her home, a stressful decision taken out of her hands by his unexpected independence. The alcoholism of Rahul is described by his elder sister, Sudha; her disappointment and bewilderment pack a particularly powerful punch. And in the loosely linked trio of stories closing the collection, the lives of Hema and Kaushik intersect over the years, first in 1974 when she is six and he is nine; then a few years later when, at 13, she swoons at the now-handsome 16-year-old teen's reappearance; and again in Italy, when she is a 37-year-old academic about to enter an arranged marriage, and he is a 40-year-old photojournalist. An inchoate grief for mothers lost at different stages of life enters many tales and, as the book progresses, takes on enormous resonance. Lahiri's stories of exile, identity, disappointment and maturation evince a spare and subtle mastery that has few contemporary equals.
February 1, 2008
Four years after the release of her best-selling novel, "The Namesake", the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lahiri returns with her highly anticipated second collection of short stories exploring the inevitable tension brought on by family life. The title story, for example, takes on a young mother nervously hosting her widowed father, who is visiting between trips he takes with a lover he has kept secret from his family. What could have easily been a melodramatic soap opera is instead a meticulously crafted piece that accurately depicts the intricacies of the father-daughter relationship. In a departure from her first book of short stories, "Interpreter of Maladies", Lahiri divides this book into two parts, devoting the second half of the book to "Hema and Kaushik," three stories that together tell the story of a young man and woman who meet as children and, by chance, reunite years later halfway around the world. The author's ability to flesh out completely even minor characters in every story, and especially in this trio of stories, is what will keep readers invested in the work until its heartbreaking conclusion. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, "LJ" 12/07.]Sybil Kollappallil, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2008 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Starred review from February 1, 2008
Following her thoughtful first novel, The Namesake (2003), which has been made into a meditative film, Lahiri returns to the short story, the form that earned her the Pulitzer Prize for her debut, Interpreter of Maladies (1999). The tight arc of a story is perfect for Lahiris keen sense of lifes abrupt and painful changes, and heravid eye for telling details. This collections five powerful stories andhaunting triptych of tales about the fates of two Bengali families in America map the perplexing hidden forces that pull families asunder and undermine marriages. Unaccustomed Earth, the title story, dramatizes the divide between immigrant parents and their American-raised children, and is the firstof several scathing inquiries into the lack of deep-down understanding and trust in a marriage between a Bengali and non-Bengali. An inspired miniaturist, Lahiri creates alexicon of loaded images. A hole burned in a dressy skirt suggests vulnerability and the need to accept imperfection. Van Eycks famous painting, The Arnolfini Marriage, is a template for a tale contrasting marital expectations with the reality of familial relationships. A collapsed balloon is emblematic of failure. A lost bangle is shorthand for disaster. Lahiris emotionally and culturally astute short stories (ideal for people with limited time for pleasure reading and a hunger for serious literature) are surprising, aesthetically marvelous, and shaped by a sure and provocative sense of inevitability.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2008, American Library Association.)
San Francisco Chronicle
"Glorious.... Showcases a considerable talent in full bloom."
PublisherKnopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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