My first book of 2014 and not a bad beginning. Lahiri’s prose is as always, sensitive, eloquent and evocative. Her ability to paint pictures with words is undiminished. What I really liked about this book though was its departure from the customary ‘migrational angst’, that has been the focus of her previous work. Although the characters in this story are also immigrants to the US, their struggle to adjust to an alien culture is thankfully not the prime focus. Instead Lahiri concentrates on the relationships between her characters and weaves together their disparate lives and memories in India and the US in a gentle,subtle mesh that is ever present but never overwhelms. And although neither the characters nor their stories are particularly original, her writing never falters. I understand why this book was short-listed for the Bookers (Lahiri seems a firm favourite!), but I also understand why it didn’t win.
So we have the two brothers, Subhash – the older, conservative, dutiful son bordering on the insipid and Udayan – the younger, spirited, a rebel in search of a cause. And Gauri – an unwilling link between the two, intelligent, sensitive and yet astonishingly weak and callous. There were times when I wanted to strike her, she made me so angry! And Bela – a product of equal measures of love and indifference – learning to survive without really living until the truth finally sets her free. The characters are not really likeable but they are human – flawed, weak, selfish, capable of great love and greater cruelty. I wish Gauri had got counselling. She really needed it.
I thought this book should have ended at the conclusion of Part VII. That to me seemed just right. Part VIII doesn’t feel extraneous, just a teeny bit forced & repetitive in an attempt to tie up loose ends. I just wish Lahiri had found another way. Still, it’s an easy read, the prose flows effortlessly along carrying you with it on a not uninteresting journey. There is tragedy but there is hope and on occasion if it all gets a bit maudlin – well I’ll survive 😉 I think this will translate very well onto screen and I have a sneaky suspicion that That is what Lahiri intended all along 😛
Here are a couple of quotes that gave me goose flesh 😛
“A time she’d crushed between her fingertips, leaving no substance, only a protective residue on the skin.”
“Her mother’s absence was like another language she’d had to learn, it’s full complexity and nuance emerging only after years of study, and even then, because it was foreign, a language never fully absorbed.”
“They were a family of solitaries. They had collided and dispersed.”
If you’re a fan of Jhumpa Lahiri, you’ll love it. If you’re not, it’s still an extremely well written book, albeit with a familiar, predictable story. The choice is yours!
Here’s to great reading year in 2014 😊