Monday, August 10, 2009

Recommended Reading: Jhumpa Lahiri

This is a fairly short entry. I just wanted to let you all know about a really awesome set of short stories I want to officially recommend. Earlier tonight, I finished Jhumpa Lahiri's "Hema and Kaushik" section from her short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth. Through a trilogy of stories about life and loss, she explores both the individual paths and common bond of two would-be lovers, Hema and Kaushik. As a writer, Lahiri never fails to completely blow my mind. Her prose is simple, restrained, and reveals the complicated ways in which people succeed or fail to connect to one another. I've read her other two books, Interpreter of Maladies and The Nameskae, previously, and they were both outstanding, with the former being one of the best short story collections I have ever encountered. The "Hema and Kaushik" stories ("Once in a Lifetime," "Year's End," and "Going Ashore") are all fantasic as individual pieces and as a whole.

In exploring how these two characters became the people they would become by the time fate throws them together as lovers in Italy, Lahiri creates a complex and interesting way of looking at two people who are meant to be together, and at the same time, meant to be kept apart. Hema and Kaushik are both great characters to spend reading time with, and the worlds they reside in are presented clearly and carefully. More impressively, the final sentence of the last story ranks among the most heartbreakingly perfect last lines ever written, in my opinion. But most of all, I was surprised and amazed by the way Lahiri tied everything together in the final pages of the story: the significance of water, the weight of individual actions, how every moment affects the next, etc. Gustave Flaubert once said a good writer must be "like God is in the universe - present everywhere and visible nowhere." I honestly can't think of many examples who fit this description as well as Lahiri. Please, I beg you, find and read some of her work.

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