Monday, March 3, 2014

Unaccustomed Earth: A review

I must confess, I was at first slightly disappointed with Unaccustomed Earth, especially if you happen to compare it to the masterpiece that was Interpreter of Maladies. The book's titular story is about an American Bengali woman in Seattle, who awaits her father's visit home, for the first time after her mother dies. I didn't particularly like Ruma; I think I was struck by her selfishness, her fear that her father would want to spend the rest of his days at her home. Yet, I couldn't help empathizing with her, particularly in the ways she missed her mother more in her absence, than when she was there. And I loved the way the story ended, when Ruma finally unearths the secret that her Baba had harbored till then. 

The next story, Hell-Heaven , is told from the perspective of a little girl, and it's about an unlikely romance (I'm not sure if 'romance' is the right word) between her mother and a post-graduate American student who lands up in Boston. I liked the third story, A Choice of Accommodations the least. Was it because of the pessimism, the disappointment, expressed by Amit? (He remarks that 'all marriages disappear after a while', at a wedding of all places!) Or was it simply because he dared to put in words what many of us might have thought, but didn't have the guts to say?

I was beginning to get kind of depressed at this point. The characters were annoying me, and it seemed that Lahiri had succumbed to creating stereotypes. All her characters were Bengali Americans, Ivy educated, with PhDs, and they all dealt with loneliness, struggling between two cultures as different as chalk and cheese. It also bothered me that they all fought their troubles with alcohol; the younger generation, drinking or dating without their parents' knowledge. Further, through her stories, I thought Lahiri was trying to suggest that arranged marriages are kind of loveless, a sort of adjustment, where one grows to be only fond of the other out of mere habit, if nothing else. Almost everyone in my family and extended friends' circle has had an arranged marriage, and judging by how things are going currently, I guess I'll have one too (if ever I get married, that is). So this stereotype disturbed me, knowing that arranged marriages can be perfectly happy too. 

At this point, I was considering giving up the book, and remember thinking to myself that reading it was like eating Turkish Delight- at first, it's exquisite, but the more you eat, the more you end up feeling ill. But I don't like abandoning books half way through, so I persisted. And, was I glad I did! For, to me, Lahiri completely redeemed herself in the second part, a trilogy of sorts, titled Hema and Kaushik 

The first story, Once in a Lifetime , told from Hema's perspective, is about Kaushik and his family who return to the US after a stint in India, and stay in Hema's house till they can find a place for themselves. Kaushik and Hema's parents used to be family friends before; but after their return, they seem to have changed. Hema's parents remark in private that the Chaudhuris were not the same- Bombay had made them more American than Cambridge. Hema, aware of her schoolgirl attraction towards Kaushik, is hungry for his attention, but he ignores her, usually aloof and indifferent, till he reveals a terrible secret to her. 

The second story, Years' End , is told from Kaushik's point of view, and it's my favorite in the entire book. I despised the kind of person Kaushik grew up to be, and was shocked at the way he treated Rupa and Piu, and yet, I couldn't help but wonder whether I would have reacted differently had I been in his situation.

The final story, Going Ashore , is painful, heart wrenching even. Hema and Kaushik meet coincidentally in Rome, and the memories of the past bring them together, even when they both know that they cannot share a common future. I found Lahiri's flair for writing on loneliness very impressive- this, for instance, managed to convey volumes about how much Kaushik wished he hadn't let Hema go:
Behind the beach, rubber trees rose thickly on the hills. Somewhere across the water, beyond the Andaman Sea, was the Bay of Bengal, and Calcutta, where Hema was. 

The end of the story devastated me; and yet, it filled me with a sort of strange peace, the knowing that despite all that has happened, life just moves on.


P.S: Have you read this book? If you have, please let me know what you think of it. I've been craving to discuss this book with anyone who could be bothered.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Unaccustomed Earth: A review

I must confess, I was at first slightly disappointed with Unaccustomed Earth, especially if you happen to compare it to the masterpiece that was Interpreter of Maladies. The book's titular story is about an American Bengali woman in Seattle, who awaits her father's visit home, for the first time after her mother dies. I didn't particularly like Ruma; I think I was struck by her selfishness, her fear that her father would want to spend the rest of his days at her home. Yet, I couldn't help empathizing with her, particularly in the ways she missed her mother more in her absence, than when she was there. And I loved the way the story ended, when Ruma finally unearths the secret that her Baba had harbored till then. 

The next story, Hell-Heaven , is told from the perspective of a little girl, and it's about an unlikely romance (I'm not sure if 'romance' is the right word) between her mother and a post-graduate American student who lands up in Boston. I liked the third story, A Choice of Accommodations the least. Was it because of the pessimism, the disappointment, expressed by Amit? (He remarks that 'all marriages disappear after a while', at a wedding of all places!) Or was it simply because he dared to put in words what many of us might have thought, but didn't have the guts to say?

I was beginning to get kind of depressed at this point. The characters were annoying me, and it seemed that Lahiri had succumbed to creating stereotypes. All her characters were Bengali Americans, Ivy educated, with PhDs, and they all dealt with loneliness, struggling between two cultures as different as chalk and cheese. It also bothered me that they all fought their troubles with alcohol; the younger generation, drinking or dating without their parents' knowledge. Further, through her stories, I thought Lahiri was trying to suggest that arranged marriages are kind of loveless, a sort of adjustment, where one grows to be only fond of the other out of mere habit, if nothing else. Almost everyone in my family and extended friends' circle has had an arranged marriage, and judging by how things are going currently, I guess I'll have one too (if ever I get married, that is). So this stereotype disturbed me, knowing that arranged marriages can be perfectly happy too. 

At this point, I was considering giving up the book, and remember thinking to myself that reading it was like eating Turkish Delight- at first, it's exquisite, but the more you eat, the more you end up feeling ill. But I don't like abandoning books half way through, so I persisted. And, was I glad I did! For, to me, Lahiri completely redeemed herself in the second part, a trilogy of sorts, titled Hema and Kaushik 

The first story, Once in a Lifetime , told from Hema's perspective, is about Kaushik and his family who return to the US after a stint in India, and stay in Hema's house till they can find a place for themselves. Kaushik and Hema's parents used to be family friends before; but after their return, they seem to have changed. Hema's parents remark in private that the Chaudhuris were not the same- Bombay had made them more American than Cambridge. Hema, aware of her schoolgirl attraction towards Kaushik, is hungry for his attention, but he ignores her, usually aloof and indifferent, till he reveals a terrible secret to her. 

The second story, Years' End , is told from Kaushik's point of view, and it's my favorite in the entire book. I despised the kind of person Kaushik grew up to be, and was shocked at the way he treated Rupa and Piu, and yet, I couldn't help but wonder whether I would have reacted differently had I been in his situation.

The final story, Going Ashore , is painful, heart wrenching even. Hema and Kaushik meet coincidentally in Rome, and the memories of the past bring them together, even when they both know that they cannot share a common future. I found Lahiri's flair for writing on loneliness very impressive- this, for instance, managed to convey volumes about how much Kaushik wished he hadn't let Hema go:
Behind the beach, rubber trees rose thickly on the hills. Somewhere across the water, beyond the Andaman Sea, was the Bay of Bengal, and Calcutta, where Hema was. 

The end of the story devastated me; and yet, it filled me with a sort of strange peace, the knowing that despite all that has happened, life just moves on.


P.S: Have you read this book? If you have, please let me know what you think of it. I've been craving to discuss this book with anyone who could be bothered.