One of the most impressive things about this book is this opening quote that is being flashed all over the internet-
Human nature will not flourish, any more than a
potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long
a series of generations, in the same worn out soil.
My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far
as their fortunes may be within my control, shall
strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.
“The Custom House”
Other than that, I didn’t see too many positives. Part I of the book has five stories, out of which Hell-Heaven had already been published in The New Yorker. Part II of the book has three short stories, based on the two characters, Hema and Kaushik. The first story from this part, titled Once in a Lifetime, was originally published in The New Yorker too; Jhumpa Lahiri decided to expand on it and that is how we get the other two stories.
I was expecting quite a bit from this book, considering the fact that it’s a collection of short stories. Having previously liked The Interpreter of Maladies, and having not liked The Namesake that much, I felt that this book might just be the literary piece that can seal the fact that Lahiri is a good writer, at least as far as short stories are concerned. I don’t see that happening though. I understand that writers tend to write about people, places and surroundings that they are familiar with. But there are many others who don’t stick to the familiar path. Lahiri seems to have beaten the topic of elite, Bengali Indian American immigrants to death. I can almost predict what her next character will be like- He/she will be a resident in the Cambridge/Massachusetts area, will only attend MIT/Harvard/Stanford, will marry a girl/boy of his parents’ choice in Kolkata and bring her here, go on to get a PhD and then a nice German car. The second generation will soon follow and the Indian immigrant will try his best to get his child into another Ivy a.ka. Envy League. The kid will be the talk of the town if he fails to get into an MIT/Harvard/Stanford. Oh, and the child will almost always marry a non-Indian and then feel awkward around his parents. Throw in some philandering, some desi eccentricities, garam masala and some memories of India and you have a Lahiri novel!
The only stories that I truly enjoyed were Unaccustomed Earth (from Part I), Once in a Lifetime (Part II- Story One) and Year’s End (Part II- Story Two). So, yes, 3/8 is not that bad.
I don’t want to write about every story in detail because it doesn’t make sense to do so. If you want to read about every short story, then take a look at NY Time’s review, which is quite detailed. Or read the book instead.
If Lahiri wants to write another novel, then I think that she might have to get over her comfort zone and pen down something new, something that we already don’t know about.