Jhumpa Lahiri won a Pulitzer Prize for her debut short story collection, ‘The Interpreter of Maladies’ years ago. Today she is one of the biggest literary icons of modern India. Her books, such as ‘The Namesake’, ‘Unaccustomed Earth’, ‘The Lowland’ and most recently, ‘Whereabouts’. With proficiency in Italian, she has also translated a bunch of work to and from Italian. Her themes, which focus on identity in diaspora and the unravelling of relationships, strike a chord with people. Here’s why her writings are monumental works of art and 5 reasons why you should read Jhumpa Lahiri’s books.
5 Reasons Why You Should Read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Books:
For their themes of diaspora
As the daughter of an Indian Bengali couple who moved to the UK and then Boston, Lahiri herself has always struggled with a warped identity. In an interview, she says that she knew no other nationality or cultural identity than a hyphenated one – she was never Indian nor American, but always Indian-American. This sense of confusion and feeling ‘neither here nor there’ in terms of identity always trickles down into her works. Whether it is Gogol searching for his roots which his parents have but he doesn’t in The Namesake, or it’s Mrs Sen trying to adjust to a new life in her sari and bindi in Interpreter of Maladies, the focus is always on diaspora. And more often than not, it’s about second generation diaspora, who truly belongs nowhere.
Because of the lucidity of language
Lahiri has a typical style, which is very evocative and has a weirdly transporting quality. In her works, the scenes merge into one another, and plots flow like rivers without any pressure or force, but in gentle rolls. Her moods are often sullen, lonely, detached and she manages to create this atmosphere through her language. At once distant and intimate, her language mirrors her characterization – a feat of storytelling. Her work is also very nostalgic, and even those who aren’t experiencing the reality of diaspora can conjure it in the eye of their minds, and empathize.
For their strong Indian roots
Lahiri may never have lived in India, and she may be a truly global citizen with her mastery of world languages. But one thing is indisputable – she has never lost her Indian roots. She often writes about first and second generation diaspora. For the latter, she has her own experiences to draw on. But for the former, whose characters are traditional men and women, very rooted in the sociocultural fabric of India, she has no experiences of her own. But in a brilliant feat of literary empathy, through acute observation, she draws on the experiences of her parents to craft her characters and plots. Mrs Sen in ‘Mrs Sen’s’ is a woman who has distinctly Indian Bengali qualities. This comes through, through tiny quirks, like her method of scaling fish.
Because of the characterization
Lahiri’s characterization is like no other. Her characters are very real, very believable, very credible. They have nuance and layers – they aren’t unidimensional in any way. Plus, their life trajectories are not larger than life or instrumental – they are simple, common people who live ordinary lives. Yet, these ordinary lives are made extraordinary by virtue of their feelings, emotions, secrets and tiny little quirks that make them who they are. Her characters are unforgettable. And this is not just because of what they do and where they end up. But it is because of who they fundamentally are.
For they play on senses
Finally, Lahiri’s books have an impeccable sensuous quality to them that is so peculiar to India that it’s ineffably endearing. The tastes, sounds, smells are very evocative of the typical atmosphere of Old Calcutta. Even in the dreary and lonely regions of America where they reside, the characters remember, reminisce and recall these sights and sounds and smells of their homeland. And sometimes they embody these smells. For instance, the female protagonist of ‘The Third and Final Continent’ wears coconut oil in her hair . Now, this is a quirk so tiny yet so characteristic of India. Through these tiny sensory details, like the scent of bhetki fish, and the taste of Indian spices, her work becomes all the more lyrical and evocative.