Jhumpa Lahiri, as a writer has a very well defined space for herself, the space of Bengalis in Boston. She restricts herself to this space and tries to give you varied views of this space, entangled with some basic human emotions. Her stories are simple, sometimes just a narration of the ordinary lives of immigrants in their new adopted homes. Most of her stories deal with first generation immigrants, something that she would have seen through her parents’ experience. Other stories deal with the next generation of these first generation immigrants, who are more rooted in their place of birth and see ridicule in their parents one foot being held in India and the conflicts thereof. I am sure this comes straight from her first hand experience. Her works are like documenting the emotional turmoil of immigrants, their balancing between what they grew up with and what they adopted, de-glamorizing the image of immigrants who are treated like Gods in their native places, their constant longing for their environment, their living in neighborhoods unlike the ones at home, their relationships with colleagues and their gradual acceptance of all new things.
The stories in this collection are simple, most of times from the angle of a protagonist’s journey into a new world and usually with a twist, which could be a revelation or an event that changes everything for the protagonist. There is always a character in the story that seem to have come from someone the author has probably seen very closely and the other characters play a supporting role and you never get to see the story from their point of view. Stories also seem to be spun around a small event like a woman sharing her darkest secret with a stranger in a strange land. Within her limited space, author has chosen stories that are diverse and touch a different chord, and this is what keeps you engaged in the book. No two stories resemble each other in storyline or backdrop, though they all still talk about immigrants and Bengalis. Is it incidental that most protagonists are females?
The language of this book is quite average and I think it was much better in her later book Namesake, where descriptions were far more vivid and crisp. You can read these stories as quick and easy read.