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Unaccustomed Earth

by Jhumpa Lahiri

This wonderful volume of short stories is bound together by the theme of the immigrantís experience: the perennial challenges of adapting; steering a path between cultures; children adopting the mores of their new homeland and moving away from their parents; the effort of putting down roots and growing in a different soil. The settings are the small, particular and domestic Ė family life in New England - but the themes are broad and universal.

In the title story of the collection, a womanís widowed father comes to stay with her. While he is there, he plants her garden with shrubs and she comes to realise that her need for him is at least as strong as his for her. The other stories in the first part of the book are vivid and haunting: the wedding of an old flame makes a couple reassess their own marriage; a young mother is reunited disastrously with her alcoholic younger brother; a young manís desire for his housemate results in his complicity in her deception by a lover. All are moving and involving in their own way but it is the three linked stories in the second half of the volume that carry the emotional power of a wrecking ball. Narrated alternately by Hema and Kaushik, their ill-timed love story is a Shakespearian tragedy in miniature.

Lahiri writes with constraint, subtlety and emotional intelligence, yet her stories can also deliver a curve ball that will knock you off your feet. She has won numerous plaudits and awards for her writing, including the Pulitzer for her novel, THE NAMESAKE, and this collection confirms her status as one of the outstanding international writers of her generation.

Clare Chandler

Published by Bloomsbury. 352pp.

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