There’s a short-piece (but impressive as a 2-page spread in the mag) about Jhumpa Lahiri and her new book in Time this week.
Lahiri is one of my favorite authors. I loved Interpreter of Maladies and my mom liked it even more. The Namesake was almost a spiritual experience for me. I read it straight through the night upon its arrival. I was tired the next day at work, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the book. I just similarly, but less intensely, devoured, Unaccustomed Earth, her latest book.
Lahiri’s words have an impact that go beyond their poetic balance. I cringed when I was introduced to her writing. Reading her for the first time was almost like having a conversation with someone who was intensely like me. I felt understood and could identify with her characters. She writes about being pulled in different directions: The pressure of adhering to the old world of our parents youth, while facing the internal torture of wanting to blend in with our new world. For me, the result was feeling inadequate in both worlds. Something as simple as the “where are you from?” question. When I answer “New Jersey”, in return I’ll often get a look of disappointment or aversion. Yet, there is no answer that feels more true. This leads to such convoluted answers like “ethnically from…” or “my family is…”. It’s a shared experience. I’ve commiserated with many children of immigrants who similarly have grown to hate this question. Lahiri helped give my experience credibility, and reassured me that that this has nothing to do with me personally, but is part of a larger, collective experience.
Lahiri’s stories are simple immigrant’s story. The stories of the children of immigrants, caught between worlds. The Time article remarks at how astounding it is that her most recent book opened the charts as a #1 bestseller. While most bestsellers are written in a frenetic, sensational, and provocative manner, Lahiri’s stories are slow-cooked with very simple themes. The sales shouldn’t be shocking: On the surface, she’s developed a rabid fan base in the South-Asian American community. But more deeply, America is a country of immigrants. Why wouldn’t her stories be embraced?
5/27/13 – I’m going to re-read my Lahiri.