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Posts Tagged ‘Jhumpa Lahiri’

After Unaccustomed Earth, “The Namesake” was my immediate choice.   I was overwhelmed by Ms.Lahiri’s grip on short stories and so wanted to read her first novel, “The Namesake“. And all I can say, she is just incredibly awesome and certainly one of the best !!!  “The Namesake” is one of the best novel I have read and it goes without saying that Jhumpa Lahiri has very successfully carved a place for herself amongst the great contemporary story writers of the time.

Very similar backdrop, Jhumpa Lahiri visits her familiar territory again with “The Namesake”, immigrant Bengali family. But the main theme of this novel is ” name”, the name of  Ashoke Ganguli and Ashima Ganguli’s son Gogol Ganguli !!!  It is interesting to see how Ms.Lahiri has dealt with this very common practice of having two names in bengali family into a full length novel. In a stroke the story line goes like this…
“The Namesake” is the journey of  the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta(Kolkata) through their fraught transformation into Americans. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Ashoke, an academic does his best to adapt while his wife pines for home back in India. Born to Ashoke and his wife, Gogol is afflicted from birth with a name that is neither Indian nor American nor even really a first name at all. He is given the name by his father who, before coming  to America to study at MIT, was almost killed in a train accident in India. Rescuers caught sight of the volume of Nikolai Gogol’s short stories that he held, and hauled him from the train. Ashoke gives this name as a substitute to his real name which was supposed to be proposed by his grandmother which unfortunately never happened. And this awkward name Gogol sticks there after. Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name, leaving him confused throughout about his identity and individuality. The story revolves around Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path in America, torn between conflicting loyalties ( Parents and his new life), studies, work and wrenching love affairs.

“The Namesake”  is a simple story without much of emotional show off. Its neither a tragedy  nor a comedy but a very simple real life story about  Gogol who is desperately trying to assimilate himself to the American way of life. The story is very  easily identifiable and true to life in every sense. Jhumpa Lahiri’s detailing is something one should look forward to in this novel. Richly infused with minute details of ones daily life, be it food, clothing, language or lifestyle…Ms.Lahiri has painted a vivid and clear picture of an Indian family trying to strike a balance between their traditional way of living and American lifestyle. The penetrating eyes of the author has very distinctly expressed the mind of Gogol and how he deals with the expectations bestowed upon him by his parents, and also the means by which he slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define himself  in this fine novel of identity. The language used is lucid and expressions are dealt with pure sensitivity. Ms. Lahiri masterfully weaves a compelling story and coats it with her authentic familiarity with the lives of the Indian diaspora, making this novel a gift for her readers who can identify with her characters and thus making it a pleasurable read.

“The Namesake” is essentially a tale of love, solitude and emotional upheavals with an amazing eye for detail and ironic observation. Anyone looking for a simple story about common and simple people with utmost reality…”The Namesake” is the one to grab. And for the author…. Jhumpa Lahiri’s unique understanding of complex human emotions and an incredible ability to convey them to the reader is highly commendable and her novel is surely a piece which can keep you wrapped with nostalgia for days to come !!!

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UNACCUSTOMED EARTH” is my first brush with Jhumpa Lahiri’s work and as expected I was not disappointed at all. Whenever I heard people talking about her writings, I always thought that I had missed out on some interesting reading, but only ,till few days back, when a friend gifted me “UNACCUSTOMED EARTH”, Ms Lahiri’s latest venture. And today as I finish the last page of this collection of short stories I  am engulfed with two thoughts!!
The first being of sheer admiration for this brilliant writer for penning down something so authentic and secondly of deep regret as in, why on earth I have not read her previous works….!!! So, before I go on with my review on “Unaccustomed Earth”, I have to promise myself to grab copies of “Interpreter of Maladies” and “The Namesake” as soon as possible !!!
“Unaccustomed Earth” is a stunningly beautiful collection of short stories about expatriate Bengali families.In this set of eight stories, Jhumpa Lahiri have very maturely dealt with common yet complicated issues faced by the parents and their children who are Americans in more ways than one. The gulf between the Indians living in America and their next generation, along with other relationships on the whole, is the predominant theme of this book .To begin with, in the title story “Unaccustomed earth”, there is Ruma who finds it an obligation  when her father arrives at her place to spend time with her and Akash (Ruma’s son) only to discover later how comfortable she was in her father’s presence that she wanted him to stay back forever . Followed by “Hell- heaven” a beautifully woven story about  relationship and dependence. “
Choice of Accommodation” tale about Amit and Megan who in their own ways find their lost love in the dorm of Amit’s school when they actually thought their marriage has crumbled. Then comes “Only Goodness”, story about Sudha and her brother Rahul who struggles with alcoholism and Sudha’s disappointment and bewilderment for his plight as she is the one who introduced him to alcohol. And lastly “Nobody’s Business” is about Sang who loved an Egyptian man only to realise that she was being ditched and cheated for another woman. The part one ends with five mesmerising stories. All about different facets of human life and relationship in different situations and connotation. A poignant portrayal of the ups and downs of life on the lines of expectations and emotions, these stories by Jhumpa Lahiri make you feel as if they are “our own” !!!
The second half of the collection, the trio of stories is what touched me the most. Hema and Kushik’s life intersect each others,first in 1974 when Hema was six and Kaushik was nine; then a few years later, at 13, she drools at the now-handsome 16-year-old teen’s reappearance; and again in Italy, when she was a 37-year-old academic , and he was a 40-year-old photojournalist. They meet at a juncture of their life when Hema is all set to get married and Kaushik still finding a companion. Interestingly, among all the stories this is the only one where the narration ends in the present day unlike the others which are set in the backdrop of 80s making, it very identifiable and realistic.Right from a compelling  narration, to well crafted characterization, exquisite location and amazing story telling with a touch of loss and sadness at the end, ” Once in a lifetime”, Year’s End ” and “Going Ashore” are indeed worth a read.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s take on Bengali- American is very interesting. Her characters are complex and are tangled with lot of emotions, yet I found it easy to sympathise and empathise with them, even though my world is far from theirs.  Ms.Lahiri has literally brought the Bengali culture alive with her realistic depictions in all her stories and her mention of the little nuances of the daily life in a Bengali household has actually left me speechless.  Interestingly, some fiction involving immigrants has been hard for me to connect with in the past,but this time I had a very clear idea of who Ms.Lahiri’s characters were as well as their struggles.Like many children of immigrants Ms. Lahiri’s characters are well aware of their parents’ expectations. Ms. Lahiri distinctly shows how some of these children learn to sidestep, even defy their parents’ wishes knowing fully their parents’ repercussions.. But she also shows how perplexed and haunted they remain by the burden of their families’ dreams and their awareness of their role in the process of Americanization. Ms. Lahiri’s emotions are not demonstrations but a definite showcase of her emotional arithmetic. Specially in the last part of the book, I  sensed the author’s elegant and haunting power of tragedy….a testimony to her brilliance as a writer.
What remains the highlight of this book is Ms.Lahiri’s penetrating eyes on the experiences of the immigrants, their life, marriage, work, and love. The stories are perfect, thanks to Lahiri’s keen sense of life’s abrupt and painful changes, and her avid eye for detailing. This collection of powerful stories about the fates of  Bengali families in America , dramatizes the divide between immigrant parents and their America-raised children in the most realistic and genuine way.

Before I close I have to say that this novel is certainly a revelation to me. A brilliantly put together prose with immaculate precision in terms of people, places and thoughts, “Unaccustomed Earth” is definitely a must read for all those who love short stories.Perhaps…what remains unquestionable throughout is Ms.Lahiri’s intentions…..she surely wants us to get accustomed with her books…and she manages that very well indeed 🙂  !!!!

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