Feb 162010

I just sped through author Jhumpa Lahiri’s book, “Unaccustomed Earth.” It was hard to put down and I’ve looked forward to whatever breaks I could get to read it. I even read it Sunday night, on Valentines night, when my husband fell asleep early in front of the television. I decided to not wake him and read my book for several hours with a gin and tonic. It was a nice evening! I’ve read all her other works so far, including “Namesake” and “Interpreter of Maladies.”

There seems to be an underlying theme to her stories, about immigrants from India. Specifically, I’ve noticed that all the Indians are Bengali, which I assume the author to be. It’s fine to write about what you know! There are common aspects to the Bengalis that holds true of all Indians from different parts of India. Once in the states, there is a tendency to seek one’s kind. Finding any Indian is good, but finding someone that is exactly from where one is even better.

I’ve seen this tendency of specific minority groups sticking together first-hand in various cities I’ve lived in. There are even different organizations for each of the sects, not just one Indian organization, of which there is normally one. Lahiri refers to this in all her stories. The mothers find others like themselves, or try at least. There is a struggle with fitting in and rejecting the culture around them, and then eventually, some sort of truce or peace. Many of the characters go back to India – usually the first generation parents. They have “paid their dues” in the states and once the kids are out of the home, there is a calling from the motherland.

Many of their kids run the other way. Some excommunicating their roots entirely and seek out the world at large. They are tired of their global experience consisting of annual trips to Calcutta. Most second-generation Indians, or ABCD’s (American Born Confused Desis), would be able to relate to Jumpa Lahiri’s stories. We would find a little piece of ourselves in the struggles the characters face, which she paints very descriptively. We feel we know them and are saddened when they die.

I look forward to Jumpa Lahiri’s next work.

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