Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Author: Jhumpra Lahiri
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Pub Date: April 1, 2008
Lahiri depicts the restraint of her characters perfectly and reveals to us private desires that cause conflict with the traditions and expectations of Indian cultural and societal norms. But, by doing so, she redefines love and the inevitability of the sorrow it sometimes carries. She is a queen of dichotomy. Though her characters have inner strength that persists and drives them further into their stories, their strengths are also what make them the victims of their own helplessness.
From Ruma’s father in his inability to share with his daughter, the acknowledgement of his feelings for another woman after the death of his wife. To Ruma, who is unable to recover from her mother’s death, only to cope by denying herself a successful career and a rich relationship with her husband and son. The restraint in the relationship between “Baba” and Ruma contain within its silences and tension, a depth of love and feeling that can only be understood by grief, denial, and the need to protect those that are loved.
The story of Pranab Chakraborty and Boudi speaks of an unrequited love that evolves within the boundaries of family friendship, compatibility, and all that is lacking in another marriage. It is a tight-lipped, repressed, and torturous story of one who carries the burden of secret love, while the other remains oblivious to his lover’s personal sacrifice and loss.
Amit and Megan share the reality of a marriage that has reached its low season dented by babies and the monotony of routine. People from their pasts can resurrect old feelings, yet reassure us as readers that passion can still spring up from the loyalty and trust found in married love.
Sudha and Rahul speak of weakened family ties because of the powerful stronghold of addiction and the loss of relationship and trust that occurs when someone is strangled by the compulsion of vices and old stereotypes.
In the story of Sang, Paul, Farsouk, and Deidre, there is truth in the tangles of love, desire, and manipulation. It reflects the compulsions we sometimes have against our better judgement and the inability to see clearly when we feel we are in love.
Hema and Kaushik share with us two opposing lives, which are drawn to each other by family ties and later by circumstance or fate. The drama of their passion and love, though restrained by the reality of other entanglements, seem inevitable and doomed to suffer a sad demise.
Overall, I found the book, Unaccustomed Earth to be filled with good stories, though desolate and bleak. I was inspired by love, but sometimes disappointed by the failings of the characters and their outcome.
Still, after reading the book, I yearned for the stories to continue; for the characters to continue on in their vignettes, if not to provide a glimpse to a more resilient hope of something better for the characters themselves, but also an affirmation that love and lovers actually do “conquer all.”
Compared to Lahiri’s other works, this collection is darker and more sombre in its tone. Your heart will break in reading it, but insist in some way that it must be so.