Friday, March 27, 2009

Unaccustomed Earth: Final Review

Judging by the comments (or lack of comments, rather) that I've seen so far on Unaccustomed Earth, I'm afraid I have to conclude one of two things:

Either 1) no one else has found the time to read Unaccustomed Earth with me, or 2) no one is reading this blog.

To preserve my vanity (a precious and fragile thing), I'm choosing to believe number 1. So I've decided to write this final review of Unaccustomed Earth under the assumption that you haven't read it and that you still could. This means I'll leave out details that could potentially spoil the book for you. This also means I'll use this space to hopefully convince you to dig up a copy of this book and read it.

Because it's brilliant. It's magnificent. It's literary manna from heaven.

Here are three reasons you should read Unaccustomed Earth.
  1. Lahiri is remarkably sensitive to the delicate nature of family relationships. Fathers, daughters, sons, mothers, spouses. You name the familial role, and chances are Jhumpa Lahiri examines how that role is delicate and oppressive and beautiful and important. Here's an example, one favorite passage in which a man, Amit, contemplates what he calls the "disappearance" of his marriage: "Wasn't it terrible that after all the work one put into finding a person to spend one's life with, after making a family with that person . . . that solitude was what one relished most" (113). This strikes me as a poignant observation - that solitude emerges as important only after we've committed our lives to others. And the book is full of just such observations.
  2. Lahiri is remarkably sensitive to the delicate nature of cultural assimilation. In Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri began exploring the implications of globalization and cultural clashes, and she continues that examination in Unaccustomed Earth. Those who've never experienced life in a foreign world should read Lahiri to gain a grasp of what these cultural clashes can do to individuals, and those who have experienced a foreign world should read Lahiri simply to see the cultural tensions they've experienced captured so powerfully.
  3. Finally, Lahiri accomplishes all of this through quiet, almost whispered prose. I've long believed that our modern obsession with constant noise is damaging today's writing. Too few emerging writers know how to slow down and really turn an idea over in their hands. Lahiri, on the other hand, writes stories that are meant to be digested in bits and pieces, slowly. Again and again as I read this book, I found myself encountering a sentence that made me stop, close the book with my finger still in it, and think. That's a rare thing, and it's a good thing.

So that's it for Unaccustomed Earth. If you'd like to read along with me in April, the book is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I'll post my first thoughts on it (and hopefully get some of yours) on April 10th.

Unaccustomed Earth WWADY Rating = 9/10


Diane said...

Um, I like reading your reviews, but don't have time to read it. Can you make a clif notes version of it for me? :)

Jane @ What About Mom? said...

I'm about half way through the first story, and it's just not gripping me. Yes, I'm lazy, and yes, I've been spoiled by junk food escapist novels where Something! Happens! every page. I will finish at least the first one, though. Maybe tonight.

But wanted to send you this link to The Tournament of Books (in case you haven't seen it yet):

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading this book and came across your blog. Lahiri is one of the best modern storytellers. Her ability to capture emotions, the struggle between immigrant parents and children raised in another country, amongst other things is just brilliant!

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