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Mere tragedies: book review of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth is a compilation of migrant tales with their customary baggage of nostalgia, rues, cultural disarrays, accomplishments and the looming tragedies concealed in each one of them. Jhumpa Lahiri’s plots are simple, her narration is flawlessly smooth; nowhere does the reader catch any glimpse of a deliberately forced poetic intrusion or lyricism.
Her story-telling mastery inUnaccustomed Earth distances the common criticism about her stories only being a plethora of the cultural clash of first generation Bengali immigrants. What’s distinctively unruffled about her characters’ portraiture here is that their seeming inwardness follows an idyllic restraint.
The title story and ‘Only Goodness’ paints the estrangement of the blood relations, compelling the characters toward an alienated existence. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s opening quote, “My children will have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.” reverberates most poignantly in these two stories.
‘Hell-Heaven’ moves along a foreseeable storyline but nonetheless is striking. It’s the ‘Choice of Accommodations’ that many will find pleasant reading. Amit and Megan after years of marriage feel like drifting away to their separate accommodations. Hema and Kaushik’s tale towers the rest as does their life’s catastrophe. Kaushik runs away from the excruciatingly painful memories of her mother’s death. Lahiri encloses that how their personal tragedies evolve and assimilate into their lives. The flux of migration is so expansive that it lasts through the entire life of an immigrant.
She has unfolded tragedies with such consummate subtlety that despite of their ordinariness they weigh gravely. You seriously can’t skip these set of short-stories from Lahiri.

Unaccustomed Earth
By Jhumpa Lahiri
333 pp. Random House, India
ISBN 978 81 8400 060 3

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