Short stories aren't usually my favorite genre. They tend to go by too quickly, so by the time I get involved with the characters and story, it's over and I'm already struggling to ground myself in the next story. Unaccustomed Earth (2008) by Jhumpa Lahiri somehow sucked me into each story but also left me satisfied with their brief length. This was my first foray into Lahiri's writing, although I have seen the movie The Namesake, but I am now looking forward to reading Interpreter of Maladies (1999).
Unaccustomed Earth consists of eight short stories, the last three of which center around the lives of two recurring characters, Hema and Kaushik. The stories focus on the private, family dramas that change our lives and shape our personalities but are rarely detected by those around us. The first story describes a father's week-long visit to see his daughter after his wife, her mother, unexpectedly dies. It's amazing what true and different emotions and themes Lahiri could pack into this short story. There's the loss of a parent and a spouse, the staleness of marriage and roles in the marriage, the push and pull of cultural expectations, the constantly changing roles of parent, caretaker, and child, the silence that surrounds important issues, and understanding and forgiveness. The other stories explore an aging marriage, the love (or crush) of an unhappily married woman, alcoholism, and a housemate's view of a failing relationship. The final three stories visit Hema and Kaushik at different turning points of their lives.
I sometimes have a hard time describing books that I've really liked. I don't have anything negative to say, and anything I could say to describe it wouldn't be as good as actually reading the stories. These weren't exactly page-turners, but quiet, insightful, and emotional stories about people that I could relate to, feel for, and understand. I enjoyed reading them and was very impressed by my first reading of Lahiri's work.