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Richmond Heights Book Club Review: 'Unaccustomed Earth'

The Richmond Heights Memorial Library Book Club discussed "Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri earlier this month.

Jhumpa Lahiri has made quite an impression in the literary world.  Her first book, the short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, won her a Pulitzer, and her second book, the novel The Namesake, was made into a movie.  Her third book is another short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth.  Not surprisingly, it faced high expectations.

Lahiri is Bengali-American. She was born in London but has lived in the U.S. since she was 3. She has made a name for herself writing brilliantly about the experiences of that ethnic group. This book is no exception, full of careful, delicate, character-driven stories about the experiences of second-generation immigrants and their families.

(Read more Richmond Heights Memorial Library Book Club reviews.)

Although hers is such a wide and varied field in which to write, Lahiri may have tread too much over this ground. Unaccustomed Earth is finely written with well-constructed, thoughtful stories—each a fine example of the ideal character-driven story in which conflict is built on the natures, beliefs and hopes of the characters themselves, and vital turning points lie in a look not given, a word not said. 

But somehow, Unaccustomed Earth also failed to compel most of the Book Club members, leaving us impressed but a little fatigued. It was like a technically brilliant painting done in the style of the master. We could find few flaws, little that we didn’t like—the occasional, perhaps unavoidable, false note of unbelievability, perhaps—and much to praise.  We were befuddled, ourselves, as to why the whole wasn’t as compelling as the sum of its parts.

That is, except one book club member, who seemed faintly bemused by our confusion. She loved the book unreservedly, and we could not deny her opinion was well-founded. We do recommend this book to others as an excellent collection of stories, and I look forward to a second reading someday. But today, I wonder what I missed. 

Next month we’re off to alligator wresting in the deep swamps and one girl’s epic odyssey to save her family, with Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.  See our website, rhml.lib.mo.us, for details. We have a new meeting time—the Richmond Heights Memorial Library Book Club meets the second Thursday of each month from 7 to 8 p.m. at , 8001 Dale Ave.  Please join us!

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