Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth, Part II

Many of Lahiri's stories have similar themes. Interpreter of Maladies encompassed many stories about first-generation Bengali immigrants. The Namesake also started out as a story about first-generation immigrants, but then became a story about their children. Unaccustomed Earth focuses more on the second generation. But, no matter what generation Lahiri focuses on, some of the struggles remain the same.

In many situations, it's the husband who comes to the United States for work (most often in New England). Either he marries (often arranged) before he comes, or his parents arrange a marriage for him while he's away, he comes back to India to marry, and then moves the woman to the U.S. With the woman so far from her family, not working, not being able to drive, she's often lonely and relies heavily on this new stranger. Most often, the man can't figure out why his wife is sad all the time. In several of Lahiri's stories, the women feel resentment toward their husbands for taking them away from India. When they have children, things change a bit, get better. However, as their children grow up, they become more and more American, leaving behind their parents who may still struggle with English and new American customs.

Lahiri was born in India, but moved to America when she was two years old. I listened to a podcast interview with her recently, and she said she feels more American than anything else, yet she still struggles with her identity sometimes. I've always wondered if her stories came from something real deep inside of her, and now I believe that to be true.

In the podcast (if you're interested, head to B&N Studio and click on Meet the Writers), she also talks about why this most recent book speaks more toward second-generation immigrants. In her personal life, Lahiri is second generation (out of three). This is the first book she wrote as a mother - and when you read it you can tell, especially compared to Interpreter. It's also come to the time in many second-generation children's lives when their parents are aging, perhaps dying. That is also a big theme throughout the book.

It was a very interesting interview. Lahiri seems soft-spoken and humble, not realizing the talent she possesses. She believes success is arbitrary - who knows what book people are going to like? It's so true. She also seemed a bit "above" the interview, but not in a bad way. Just that she expected more of the interviewer. I felt she wanted to be asked something she's never been asked before. As a journalist, I know how hard it is to ask new questions, but I think that also makes me in tune to an interviewee who's looking for more from her interviewer.

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