Unaccustomed Earth, By Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Independent Culture

"Be happy, love Baba," are the words with which Ruma's father signed the postcards that landed in her Seattle home, sent during the globe-trotting that was sparked by his wife's death. But what is happiness and how does one achieve it?

The question is paramount throughout this sensuous collection of stories, in which Jhumpa Lahiri writes about happiness lost and found between family, friends and lovers. The burden of parental expectations has weighed hard upon Ruma, who disappoints her parents by studying the wrong subject and marrying the wrong man. Her mother seems to forgive her and find contentment only on becoming a grandmother. Then there is the moving story of Hema and Kaushik, childhood acquaintances meeting again as adults.

Lahiri builds on the themes in "Interpreter of Maladies" and "The Namesake", exploring those who seek happiness in company, and those who yearn to escape to solitude, far from "the mess, the feuds, the demands" of family.

Lahiri's characters itch in their clothes and skins, outgrow relationships. Lahiri herself is comfortable in both the first and third person, male and female perspective, past and present tense, as she crafts what are, at their cores, poignant love stories.