The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
I bet you don’t usually wish that you could read a book for the first time all over again, but take it from me: Jhumpa Lahiri’s books will be an exception. Lahiri, (a Barnard College graduate!) is a Bengali-American author, best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short fiction stories, Interpreter of Maladies. Her writing tends to focus on diasporic themes about Indian immigrants in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York. She recently published her first novel in Italian, In Altre Parole, and then translated it into English –– In Other Words.
Below are five of her books that I’ve read and reviewed. (Spoiler: most of them earn five stars. And I don’t easily give books five stars.)
1. Interpreter of Maladies: 5/5
This is the first book I read of Lahiri’s. Her writing style of using everyday words alongside vivid descriptions and imagery makes her books both easily digestible and extremely emotional. Out of the nine short stories in Interpreter of Maladies, the first story, A Temporary Matter, is by far my favorite. It explores the relationship of a married couple, whose electricity gets turned off every night for five nights in a row. Throughout Shukumar and Shoba’s five dark nights, Lahiri illustrates the complications and peaks of the couple’s relationship through their intense dinners, laughs, cries, and stories with each other. Overall, this is a great first book to read of Lahiri’s, as it is not only her most popular one to date but a story through which you’ll connect with the characters on a personal level.
2. The Namesake: 5/5
If you like traditional novels, this book is great for you. Unlike most of Lahiri’s books, The Namesake is not a collection of short stories, but a regular novel. This book is focused on the immigrant experience of a family from Calcutta living their lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Namesake mainly follows Ashima and Ashoke’s son, Gogol, and his experience growing up: he contemplates his namesake, identity, relationship with alcohol, and his bonds with his parents, sister, and girlfriend. I especially loved this book because Lahiri’s beautiful words perfectly reflected the experience of kids growing up in immigrant families. This book made me cry at the end. (There is also a movie that has been made of this book, but I have not watched it yet!)
3. Unaccustomed Earth: 5/5
This book is Lahiri’s second collection of short stories. Out of the eight stories, the first five all follow different storylines, with the last three linked. I absolutely loved the last three stories of the book, Hema and Kaushik. These three narratives explore the relationship between a girl and a boy born to two Bengali immigrant parents, and their link to each other throughout their whole lives. She writes the stories in both characters’ points of view, making this trilogy full of perspective and life.
4. The Lowland: 5/5
The Lowland is my absolute favorite book by Lahiri and one of my favorite books of all time. I couldn’t put it down — I finished it in a week. This is the type of book you won’t be able to stop thinking about after you read it. The Lowland is one long story, but it differs from her other books because it is a mix of political history and fiction. It is a heart wrenching yet beautiful story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, who grew up together in Tollygunge, Calcutta in the 50s. When they go off to university, they diverge paths and develop opposing political ideologies. Udayan becomes very involved in the Naxalite Movement, while Subhash seeks further education in America. I enjoyed the way Lahiri embedded political history that often does not get taught with fictional characters –– creating a seamless story that almost feels like nonfiction. I can’t recommend this book enough.
5. Whereabouts: 3.5/5
Whereabouts is one of Lahiri’s most recent books, published in 2018. This is another book that she originally wrote in Italian, then self-translated to English. It is significantly shorter than her other books, but still a great read. It earned a 3.5 in my rating system because I did not find it quite as captivating as Lahiri’s other books. Maybe because it is different in format and style from her other books, I didn’t feel as emotionally connected to the character as I normally do — especially since the book focuses on an unnamed character in an unnamed setting. Each chapter is extremely short, each set on a specific moment in the character’s life. While it’s not my favorite book, Lahiri’s writing is still eloquent, and her short scenes can still lure you into her narrative.
I have a few other of Jhumpa Lahiri’s books on my “must-read” list, and these five books leave me with no doubt that her others are fascinating. Lahiri’s books can be found at the Barnard Library, Barnes & Noble, Bookculture, or any other bookstore. Let me know what you think of them once you’ve given them a read!