Entering the World of Jhumpa Lahiri

Long before I moved to Cambridge I was a lover of Jhumpa Lahiri‘s writing. An Indian American author, Jhumpa Lahiri allows the reader to enter the worlds of the children of immigrants, getting inside both the head and heart of the reader.

Her characters are all Bengali and many of them come to the United States for education, attending graduate school and beyond at Harvard and MIT. While the parents long for the foods and families left in their countries of origin, their children are trying to navigate both east and west as they mature into adults and find themselves more and more distanced from the world of their parents.

Many of her short stories as well as her well-known book “The Namesake” take place in Cambridge or between Cambridge and India. When I moved to Cambridge I felt like I had entered her world. With Pakistan as my backdrop, and Cambridge as my present, her stories became even more poignant and real to me. As she described small apartments in Central or Inman Squares, and the biting cold that sooner or later demanded a heavy wool coat be worn over the silk of a sari, I realized this was the world where I was now living. Seeing older Indian couples walking along the Charles River or Mass Ave took me to the pages of her stories, where she would describe similar scenes, always able to articulate the internal longing and homesickness that are an inevitable part of the life of an immigrant. That sense of never quite belonging to the country their children call home.

As I walk by graduate student housing and see young couples outside I wonder if they are raising the children that Jhumpa Lahiri writes about in her short stories. Children who, despite deep love for their parents, find negotiating two worlds slightly schizophrenic and at times impossible.

While reading her books I am suspended between worlds, where both parent and child are dealing with hidden longing and disconnect. Where the worlds of east and west, so vastly different from food to politics are sometimes at peace and other times in conflict. As the books come to an end, I leave with a greater understanding of both child and parent, and if I am honest – myself.

“Just being brought up by people who didn’t and still don’t feel fully here, fully present–that’s very intense,” ….. “It’s not just all about the house we live in and the friends we have right here. There was always a whole other alternative universe to our lives.” from Jhumpa Lahiri: The Quiet Laureate – Time Magazine 2008

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