The whole time I was reading this collection of short stories, I was wondering what took me so long to get to it. I've had an ARC (which came from a free cart at the library, not the publisher) since 2008 and have set it on my bedside TBR pile numerous times, but it always has ended up getting reshelved and saved for another day. I'm glad I finally read it as it is 5-star brilliant. I can still see the characters in my head and it's the kind of book in which the stories are so thorough that you need to let them sit and roll around in your head before moving on to the next. That's my favorite kind of story. I like stories that make me think, make me even wonder where the characters are, now, or what happened after.
Some features of the stories in Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri:
- Main characters who have Indian parents who have emigrated to the US.
- MCs who have traveled regularly to visit grandparents in some part of India.
- Challenges of standing out and how that discomfort feeds into the large communities of Indian immigrants (the way they stick together as a community) in the US and possibly the reason some return to India.
- Mixed marriages (usually Indian/American and a Caucasian) and the things individuals in these marriages can't understand about each other.
- The pressure of parental expectations — specifically Indian parents, who tend to have driven children in fields like law, medicine, and engineering and expect their children to do the same or the pressure of keeping to tradition.
- Fathers who are distant and mothers who spend their time cooking elaborate Indian meals.
- Frequently, the loss of a parent.
- Characters who stopped over in London before moving on to the US or end up there or another country, where they feel comfort in being absorbed by the multinational crowd.
There are two sections of the book and the second part is told in 3 interconnected stories, each from a different point of view. The first is that of a boy whose family lived in the US, moved back to India, and has returned. Then, the viewpoint of a girl who had a crush on that boy, didn't forget him when he left, and is baffled when his family moves in with hers temporarily when they return to the US. The final story tells about how they meet in Italy when she is 37 and he's 40.Trigger warning for woman dying of cancer: The final section spends a little too much time on the mother with cancer. For some of us, this hits a little too close for comfort. I will not read this book again, partly because of that.
I did, however, feel like The Lowland was written in what I'd call the Bummery Things Happen mode of literature.