There's no point, I thought to myself for six months, in reading something by an established author whose latest work everyone is raving about--I won't have anything new to add to the discussion, surely, and besides, I'll probably be disappointed because there was so much hype.
Which is why Unaccustomed Earth sat on the floor of my office for six months before I finally decided I needed to read it (having already blown the money on a hardcover).
Yeah, well. I literally couldn't put it down. My mother was visiting this weekend and I found myself sneaking off to read it late into the night after she went to bed. I gave her the copy to read on her return trip.
Jhumpa Lahiri got some flack from some people back in early 2008 when this book was first published--why does she keep writing about upper middle-class Bengali immigrants? What does that have to do with most Americans? Her stock answer, which she sticks by, is she doesn't care what people think, she writes for herself. If people like what she publishes, great. If they find something in it that resonates, bully for them. (Check out this New York magazine article.)
And it's true I don't have an awful lot of Bengali or immigrant in me (read: 0%) and yet somehow she hits a nerve with every story. I'm not sure I can put my finger on why--I don't respond to her stylistically, the way I do to, say, [my imaginary boyfriend] Michael Chabon. I think it's more about her content--there's a sinker in every plot line that makes it go straight into my brain.
In Unaccustomed Earth, for example, there was a particular story that I reacted to on an extremely personal level. I read it several times because I was so surprised by it. I won't say which story it was for me, because I suspect that the story will vary depending on the reader--there was another story I responded to strongly because it reminded me of a close friend's situation.
Anyway. I can't think of anyone I wouldn't recommend this book to. I don't feel that way often.