On Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing has an indescribable quality. By now I have read a few of her books – Low Lands and Unaccustomed Earth – and have started developing an understanding of her style. Until I read her I used to see her as a high brow author, but Low Land changed my opinion about her.

The sentences are utterly simple – they are not necessarily short and mechanical but fluid and what some would say casual. There is very little formality about how she describes things and even when it comes to the technical aspects of her language. She doesn’t use the semi colon (in fact, nowadays many authors have done away with it); two complete clauses are separated by a comma instead. (I still use it.) I have even found the first letter of a proper noun not capitalized on an occasion. (Was it she or her proof reader?)

It is how one would write a diary, personal recordings not meant to be shared with the larger world. But I think this languid and casual style endears her to her readers – and she has a huge fan following particularly among women readers.

But it’s not just the sentences which read fluid; her narrative also moves in a free-flowing manner. It takes her narrative lot of time, events (some creating a coherent form, some random) to shape up. You will not find any narrative trick employed to make her stories unique. She has an old fashioned and simple storytelling style.

Another thing with Lahiri is her books are promoted as Indo American affairs dealing with the lives of second generation Bengali migrants to the US, but they are more American and less Indian.  Her characters’ lives in India is mostly the backstory and their lives in America form the frontal narrative.

A recurring subtheme of her stories is how the first generation migrants hold on to their native values and try to bring up their children based on them but as the families move into the second generation, particularly after the children grow up a little, the native values slowly make way for American values.

Lahiri has talked at length on this in her Clothing of Books about how when she was a child growing up in the US her mother used to force Indian clothes and ways on her but when she grew up she just shoke off the cloak to fully embrace the culture of the land her parents had adopted a generation back, America.