Bridging Two Worlds


"Unaccustomed Earth" (Knopf, 2009, $15), newly released in trade paperback, has been widely praised since it was first published in 2008. The New York Times Book Review selected it as Best Book of the Year, and it has won numerous short story awards. You would expect the prose to be pristine, and it is.

In "Unaccustomed Earth" Lahiri explores the isolation, emotional confusion and social schizophrenia of Bengali Americans who are trying to bridge two worlds. Unlike many short-story collections, which can be so densely packed with detail that the reader begins to feel suffocated, Lahiri's writing is punctuated with bursts of refreshing insight and unexpected twists that keep the pace up. For anyone interested in understanding different cultures, there is also that added benefit.

The eight stories stand alone, with the exception of "Hema and Kaushik," which is a series of three linked stories. The settings range from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand. Through writing that is both subtle and powerful, Lahiri builds dramatic tension that exposes the stress of family life, marital relations, parent/child relationships, ambitions realized and potential lost. Her insight into a panoply of very human situations seems to bring the reader into the midst of every dilemma, as if you were seated in an easy chair watching. Yet, the focus is always tight, and it is almost impossible to look away from this wonderful book.


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