Born on July 11, 1967 Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the most celebrated literary voices of our times. The author represents and has given voice to Bengali immigrants whose existence is marked by the anxiety of being away from home and the pressure of creating one in a foreign land. The author is returning with a novel after a decade. Before you read Whereabouts, here are some of her other works you should read.
Interpreter of Maladies
Published in 1999, this short story collection catapulted Jhumpa Lahiri to stardom and placed her formly in the literary landscape. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in 2000.
The nine short stories enclosed themes which will go on to feature extensively in her works. Through the gift of her prose and narrative, Lahiri explored questions of identity, the loneliness that stems out of being a second hand immigrant and the rootlessness that follows them like a habit. She also examined various facets of desires, the way it affects relationships.
The Unaccustomed Earth
Published in 2008, Unaccustomed Earth, as the title suggests, centered around people occupying an unfamiliar world. With this collection Lahiri returned to a territory she has made completely her own. It consists of nine stories. The intervening years added a deftness to a touch, lent a more nuanced view when looking at relationships and people.
She talks about similar themes but there is a visible emotional maturity to her voice, a more galvanising core to her stories. The people she was writing about remained the same, her way of looking at them altered. The Unaccustomed Earth remains one of her better works.
Lahiri’s first novel The Namesake was published in 2003. She narrows down her vision here but makes up for it in her expansive, unhindered exploration. The Namesake is about a young Bengali couple who try to make a home away from home. The story begins with Ashok and Ashima but it is soon occupied by their children, especially Gogol and his own journey of accepting it carves the route for his rite of passage.
The book is a heartbreaking account of what it means to lose a parent, underlining quietly that we also lose a part of ourselves. In 2007, the novel was adapted into a film by Mira Nair featuring Irrfan Khan and Tabu in the leading roles.
Lahiri returned to fiction after a decade with The Lowland. And this time she placed herself in an unaccustomed earth. The Lowland is rooted in the Calcutta of the 1950s and ’60s raging with the Naxal bari movement. She weaves in the story of a family and how the lives of two brothers were forever altered. But the novel goes on to become a vivid depiction of one of Lahiri’s most memorable female characters, Gauri.
Through her the author treads roads she had hitherto not explored before, exhibiting remarkable maturity and emotional acuity. In Lahiri’s work, geographical lines, however invisible, seep in to the characters and tie them to homes in a way which is both unbearable and inevitable.