by Kriste Lapkus
The hardships of the immigrants who make up the unique “melting pot” of America are easily forgotten. These brave immigrants, arriving from all ends of the world, sacrifice so much to survive in a new environment while attempting to save their own culture’s individuality. The excitement and anxiety of leaving behind a beloved home and culture is the underlying theme in Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Unaccustomed Earth”. Lahiri, who is of Bengali descent and born in London, was raised in Rhode Island and presently lives in Brooklyn. She is living proof that the place where your closest attachment to isn’t always the country from which you are bound to by birth or blood, but where you feel most comfortable becoming yourself. In this collection of stories, this forgotten truth is quietly whispered between the pages, with a raw energy that only Lahiri manages to muster.
Jhumpa Lahiri begins a new type of storytelling, or writing that doesn’t necessarily teach a moral at the end of a typical happy ending. Each of the eight stories in “Unaccustomed Earth” doesn’t have a settled end to the hardships, unlike most classic stories have in the past. On the contrary, Lahiri teaches the moral of the stories along the way for the reader to learn on his or her own. According to the New York Times, “Lahiri shows that people may be felled at any time by swift jabs of chance, wherever they happen to live. Uncontrollable events may assail them — accidents of fate, health or weather”. The hardships and sufferings of the characters that were uprooted from their homeland are written realistically in Lahiri’s point of view and don’t always end in a stable ending, such as reality does. Her stories breathe the concealed reality that immigrants have to deal with on a daily basis.
Each of the characters of “Unaccustomed Earth” are brought to life by Jhumpa Lahiri, as if without trying. She seems to allow them to grow and mature while she sits back and waits from them to either bloom or crumble. In one of the short stories, “Unaccustomed Earth”, Ruma blossoms from a simple wife that recently lost a mother, to a complex woman. Lahiri writes, “there were times Ruma felt closer to her mother in death than she had in life, an intimacy born simply of thinking of her so often, of missing her. But she knew that this was an illusion, a mirage, and that the distance between them was now infinite, unyielding.” Through beautiful phrases such as these, her stories are brought to life.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection, “Unaccustomed Earth”, is a literary success. Each story is based off of the same theme, yet completely unlike the other. Lahiri shows the complexity of immigrant families while keeping it simple for the readers. By reading this assortment of short stories, the reader cannot stop him or herself from diving into the drama of Lahiri’s characters’ lives. Jhumpa Lahiri is out to change her reader’s conceptions of immigrants. So far, she is succeeding with great triumph.