Beginning in America, and spilling back over memories and generations to India, Unaccustomed Earth explores the heart of family life and the immigrant experience. Eight luminous stories – longer and richer than any Jhumpa Lahiri has yet written – take us from America to Europe, India and Thailand as they follow new lives forged in the wake of loss.
This is an absolutely, freaking amazing collection of short stories. It was totally unexpected and a beautiful introduction into the world of Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing. I am completely obsessed now, and eagerly awaiting for The Namesake to arrive at my door. After all, if her short stories are this amazing, a full length novel is just going to be ten thousand times better!
I grew up in a pretty sheltered community – very few people are
not of European descent (predominately English and German). It’s a pretty
monocultural region of Southern Australia. So reading about the Bengali culture,
immigrants and the cultural experience of having your feet in two worlds was an
eye-opening experience for me. In the best, most engaging way possible. Especially
since, although this was a social and cultural group that I have no experience
with, universal issues of family and belonging were still dealt with. Realities
which many families have to deal with, but all cope with in different ways.
This story left me thinking. Hard. The themes and issues
discussed are serious and intense. The battles fought and the lives lived
something that I found completely relatable, and impossible to imagine all at
the same time. It was an amazing journey that I will probably repeat again and
again and again. After all, I read to expand my mind, and this collection did
that in the best way possible.
Title: Going Ashore Author: Jhumpa Lahiri In: Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri) Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect) My Bookshelves:Contemporary, Race, Romance Dates read: 29th October 2019 Pace: Slow Format: Short story Publisher: Bloomsbury Year: 2008 5th sentence, 74th page: Then he remembered that he had not given her his e-mail address.
After years and adulthood have built their lives, Hema and Kaushik finally meet again. But will they get their happily ever after? Or will life, once again, tear them apart?
Wow this was a tragic ending to a fantastic collection. Not just a brilliant collection, but it also ties out the stories started in Once in a Lifetime and Year’s End. I wanted a happily ever after. A riding off into the sunset ending, because, let’s face it, I’m kind of a child… and always want a happily ever after. But I didn’t get that. And at first I was incredibly annoyed. But then after a little while… I accepted it, and realised that this was actually kind of brilliant. Albeit seriously sad and depressing.
Although I read a lot of stories which make me want to tear
up, there are incredibly few which actually do bring a tear to my eye… but this
was certainly not the case. I did actually weep a little. Just enough to
realise that this was incredibly potent and not the kind of story I’m ever
going to forget. And it’s not one that I ever do want to forget. It reminded me
that sometimes you have to live every day like your last. Say the things that
you need to say… because if you don’t, it could just be too late.
I really enjoyed how Going Ashore, Once in a Lifetime and Year’s End all intersected. They could be read completely separately, but worked better as a whole. Each tale had it’s own messages and storyline. But they also have one overall, heart wrenching tale that will pull at your heart strings and have you sitting at the end, staring into the abyss. Or at least, that’s what I did for a good five minutes after I finished this short story.
Title: Year’s End Author: Jhumpa Lahiri In: Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri) Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!) My Bookshelves:Contemporary, Family, Race Dates read: 26th October 2019 Pace: Slow Format: Short story Publisher: Bloomsbury Year: 2008 5th sentence, 74th page: For the last two years of my mother’s life, when she was always in and out of the hospital, we had gone nowhere, taken no trips for pleasure apart from those occasional walks along the beach.
Kaushik is faced with a father that’s moving on and a new year. In the mean time he’s remembering a past that they shared. A past filled with regrets, sorrow and a handful of fond memories.
This story connects into Once in a Lifetime. It is about the boy that Hema admires from afar, and the reasons behind his weird behaviour. Actually, the whole behaviour of his family to hers. And the aftermath of his mother’s illness. It’s a haunting tale about trying to move on, but not quite being able to do it.
This tale of moving on to a new future and finding a new
place in a changing world is always difficult. When your past is haunted by
loss that is never discussed, and a separation from family and culture it just
makes it all that more difficult. It’s hard enough to move on to a new future
when things are sitting well in life. It’s far more difficult when there’s a
broken family that can’t quite be repaired.
I don’t come from a broken family (thankfully), so it’s difficult to understand what that feels like. Yet, Lahiri’swords are still haunting enough that I feel like I could begin to understand. The loss, grief, confusion and guilt leap from the pages and strike you immediately in the heart. Just like good, contemporary writing should.
Title: Once in a Lifetime Author: Jhumpa Lahiri In: Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri) Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again) My Bookshelves:Contemporary, Family, Race Dates read: 19th October 2019 Pace: Slow Format: Short story Publisher: Bloomsbury Year: 2008 5th sentence, 74th page: I was still very much a child, while you, just three years older, had already eluded your parents’ grasp.
She can remember the first time she saw him. And the last. It wasn’t long, but it was a once in a lifetime experience. One she will never forget.
I thought that this was going to be a bit of a love story.
From the title to the first statements of I remember when I first saw you…
there was something incredibly romantic about this tale. It didn’t quite turn
out that way. But there was still that beautiful, bittersweet nostalgia within
the story. One that left me feeling happy and complete when I finally finished this
I’ve mentioned it before after reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories, but I have very little experience with other cultures. In particular, I have almost no experience with Indian immigrants. But I do have experience with having a sick parent, and the difference in the story that is told here and my own was really interesting. It made moments that are so relatable also completely alien. It lent to that feeling of bittersweet memories being relived with a nice dash of love.
I think everyone has that person in their past that made
some kind of difference. That you remember with fondness, but didn’t
necessarily have much of a relationship with. For me, as with this narrator, it
was an older boy that just fascinated me for years. There are crystal clear
moments of memories that helped to shape who I am, but they also are happily in
the past. I like that this story took that feeling and made it something so
pure. It isn’t something that needs to be carried into the future, but it is
wonderfully remembered in the past.
Paul has had a crush on Sang for years. But she’s always had a boyfriend. Yet, when he finds out the truth about Freddy, things quickly come unravelled and he realises that it miight just be his business.
My partner always says our relationship is nobody’s
business. Which I completely agree with. Except. Except for things like this
story, when Sang’s relationship very quickly did become Paul’s business. After
all, he was in a no win situation where he kind of did need to say something.
Or at least, that’s how I felt. His own emotions did kind of get in the way,
but he was still placed in a position where he needed to deal with “nobody’s
There is nothing worse than being put in a position where you just don’t quite feel right about your friends’ other half. I’ve had it happen a few times, and the gut wrenching feeling every time you are both together and see how they’re being treated… it’s absolutely freaking horrible. Lahiri was able to describe this perfectly. Although the backstory might have been completely different to what I’ve experienced, that feeling of horror is still there.
I found this short story a little bittersweet and tragic. Which I’m kind of learning to expect from Lahiri. There is something so much more realistic about not having a happily ever after ending. After all, there isn’t a ride off into the sunset, live happily ever after for anyone in real life. Even if we do get that one moment, there are all of those enjoyable, messy, ridiculous moments afterwards…
Sudha gave her brother, Rahul his first beer. But she had no idea what that could lead to. Where life would take them and how much danger he could eventually find himself in.
Family is difficult, complex and insane. Completely insane at times. Which is captured brilliantly in Only Goodness. Featuring two siblings and following them as they grow, change and navigate the adult world, there are moments of frightening familiarity, interwoven with a life that I have never experienced. It created a world that was surreal and known. One that I really enjoyed visiting.
Alcoholism is a pretty severe mental health issue. The fact
that this story explores it from those beginning, niggling warning signs to the
eventual demise of a family worked brilliantly well. There was no one moment
throughout which you could pinpoint as the start of an addiction, rather a
series off events and personality traits which eventually led to an incredibly
Unlike the first few stories in the Unaccustomed Earth collection, this didn’t really feel so much like a story about migration and race. Sure, there were aspects of this within the story, but it was the son’s mental health and addiction issues which really took centre stage – something that transcends race and culture.
Title: A Choice of Accommodations Author: Jhumpa Lahiri In: Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri) Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!) My Bookshelves:Contemporary, Family, Race Dates read: 21st September 20199 Pace: Slow Format: Short story Publisher: Bloomsbury Year: 2008 5th sentence, 74th page: Megan was content with one, telling him she’d paid the price for being from a large family.
Amit is attending an old friend’s wedding with his wife. The past and the glory of the night make him reflect on the decisions he’s made in life and whether he’s truly happy in the world he’s created for himself.
Relationships aren’t always sunshine and roses. Whoever tells you that they are is either lying, completely delusional or still in the honeymoon stage of theirs. That’s not to say that relationships aren’t completely amazing, but there is a level of comfort and almost boredom that you reach after a point. One that isn’t glorified in stories, because it is this amazingly comfortable, well-loved and satisfied feeling. Which, in a rare case for the stories I read, Lahirimanages to do kind of perfectly.
Multi-cultural relationships are a little bit difficult. And meeting people from your partners’ past can make all of the issues you thought you no longer had rise to the surface. Jealousy. Insecurity. So many questions. Yet, Lahiri manages to highlight this with a sense of respect. Not just for what people who have been happily married for umpteen years’ experience, but how they sometimes deal with their first night of freedom away from their children.
One of the things I am completely falling for with Jhumpa Lahiri’swriting is her way of taking the everyday life and telling a tale. In some cases, it’s the everyday life of migrants and refugees (something I don’t have much in common with). But in others, it’s the everyday ins and outs of being in a relationship. I think that it’s something that needs to be addressed more frequently. After all, the meeting and first contact are fun and intense. But that bit after? The part where you become comfortable and know that you’ve found that person to spend forever after with. Because forever after can all be first moments and stolen kisses… it has to be about something more.
Title: Hell-Heaven Author: Jhumpa Lahiri In: Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri) Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect) My Bookshelves:Family, Migration, Race Dates read: 16th September 2019 Pace: Slow Format: Short story Publisher: Bloomsbury Year: 2008 5th sentence, 74th page: My parents and I had lived in Central Square for three years prior to that day; before that, we lived in Berlin, where I was born and where my father had finished his training in microbiology before accepting a position as a researcher at Mass General, and before Berlin my mother and father had lived in India, where they were strangers to each other, and where their marriage had been arranged.
She’s stuck between two worlds – the past of her parents and the present of America. A fun uncle and his new wife might completely change everything. And help her to find a way to accept her place in the world…
Arranged marriages are something that I don’t understand and
have never had first hand knowledge of. Which means that any story which features
this are going to be completely fascinating. After all, I read because I want
to understand the world and things around me better… so this story was
completely fascinating. Impossible to put down and made me feel like I could understand
the world around me a little better…
I don’t think it matters what culture and society you come
from, family is still an incredibly important driving force. As a woman, the
relationship between mother and daughter is an especially poignant relationship
that forms everything I’ve become. This was beautifully reflected in this short
story – the entire tale revolved around a mother and daughter. The uncle
figures presence provides a vessel through which this occurs, but the central
tale is still about the mother and the daughter.
Short stories which come full circle are always kind of
enjoyable. There is something that is succinct and neatly tied up because of
it. This is the perfect example of such a tale – it starts with a strange man
coming into their lives and becoming part of the family, and ends with the
woman he bought into their lives thanking them for being a family. It’s not
entirely neat, but it is quite sweet and makes you realise that your actions
from years ago can still come back. That sometimes what we thought we wanted
isn’t actually what we needed, and our acceptance of others will always turn
out for the best.
Title: Unaccustomed Earth Author: Jhumpa Lahiri In: Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri) Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect) My Bookshelves:Contemporary, Migration, Race Dates read: 20th – 21st July 2019 Pace: Medium Format: Short story Publisher: Bloomsbury Year: 2008 5th sentence, 74th page: He had found his wife’s interest surprising; throughout most of their marriage it had been an unquestioned fact that visiting family in Calcutta was the only thing worth boarding a plane for.
Ruma lost her mother a year ago. Now her father is coming to visit. Is it time for the patterns of the past to be healed and a new reality to set in?
This is my first Lahiristory, and it’s making me wonder where her writing has been all my life. Her style of writing is incredibly accessible and open. And, although she’s dealing with a culture and people that I’ve had next to no experience with, the themes and issues are still prevalent in my life. Issues of growing and changing, seeing parents as their own grown entities.
There are many stories which talk about coming of age and reaching
adulthood. There aren’t so many stories of almost the second coming of age.
That point in our lives when we start to change our opinions of our parents because
they are beginning to seem smaller and more elderly in our lives and start our
own families with children of our own. This short story perfectly investigates this
point. The added stressor of losing a parent and a readjustment of priorities created
an amazing story which I found hard to put down. And one that I am probably
relating a little more to than I would have expected.
This was quite an enjoyable and easy read. The open-endedness
of the story meant that you could imagine Ruma and her family living long into
the future. Constantly renegotiating and figuring out where they stand with
each other. Her son growing to be an old man and experiencing the same reconfigurations
of self and being.