Monday, June 2, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, and Yosemite pictures

I finished Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of stories Unaccustomed Earth while we vacationed in Yosemite. I really enjoyed it, as I enjoyed her earlier books. I remember reading a couple of these stories in the New Yorker a while back, so they weren't all new to me.

Lahiri's prose is plain but elegant, and I love her attention to detail. I also relate to her work for other reasons. Lahiri is a couple of years younger than I am, and she often describes Bengali children growing up in suburban America as immigrants or the children of immigrants. I didn't have that experience, but I did grow up in suburban America during the time period she often describes, the seventies and eighties, and I think her descriptions of feeling like an outsider in suburban America hold true for me and many, if not most, American teenagers. In one of the stories, a young girl receives a hand-me-down coat from the son of family friends, and she hates wearing it, because it is a boy's coat, and nothing like the puffy pink and purple coats her female classmates wear--but her immigrant parents don't understand her embarrassment and won't let her get rid of it. Ah, the indignities the young must bear! It's scenes like this one that Lahiri does so well.

This book also describes courtship and the early years of marriage, and describes the difficulties in parenting young children, which I can also relate to. I would be interested to hear if the book is as interesting to all the readers out there who are not in this stage of their lives, or who didn't grow up in suburban America.

Yosemite was beautiful. There's something about being in Yosemite that is calming and meditative. The photos don't capture the scale, or the majesty, of the place. But here are a few snaps anyway:
Yosemite Valley from the entrance at highway 41

Half Dome at dusk.

El Capitan from a distance.

A granite dome in the distance.

Upper and lower Yosemite Falls.


litlove said...

Beautiful pictures and a book I really must read! Glad to hear you had a lovely time.

BooksPlease said...

Yosemite looks so beautiful. I've been looking for Lahiri's books for a while and will add this to my list to read.

tanabata said...

Beautiful photos! Sounds like you had a nice time.
I'll probably wait until it comes out in paperback but I really enjoyed Lahiri's two other books so I'm looking forward to this one.

Tara said...

Amazing photos! I've never been to this part of the country.

The Lahiri book sounds good; I enjoyed her first short story collection very much. Which is saying something since short stories are not my favorite things to read.

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--we had a wonderful trip, and I enjoyed the book. I would love to hear what you think if you read it!

booksplease--Yosemite is one of those places that is impossible to describe, the scale is so extreme. But it is beautiful, that's for sure!

tanabata--thanks! The pictures don't do the place justice, though :) And I hope you enjoy the Lahiri when you read it!

tara--Yosemite is definitely worth a visit, if you get out west. I found these short stories pretty meaty, so maybe that's why you liked hers--I do like short stories, but don't go out of my way to read them.

Jaimie said...

Beautiful pics! I felt like I was right there. Thanks so much for sharing your vacation with us.
I haven't read any of Lahiri's books but was curious. I will add this one to my wishlist.

Matt said...

Jhumpa Lahiri and Yosemite--what a perfect match! I also find her writing very elegant, characters etched, and prose insightful. I have enjoyed The Namesake so much--the struggle, the sometimes enfeebled, fearful immigrant experience, and the clash between cultural and generational differences.

Pictures of Yosemite are amazing. Did you climb the Half Dome? It's been years since I reached the top.

Gentle Reader said...

jaimie--Glad you enjoyed the pictures. I liked this book a lot, but also enjoyed her first two--I don't think you can go wrong reading any of them!

matt--I wish I got to hike up Half Dome! Unfortunately, with three kids, the hiking was more like walking. My husband planned to take my two boys on the easier trail down from Glacier Point, but the trail was closed because of a rock slide the night before! Yikes, glad it didn't happen while they were hiking it.

Also, I forgot to post about the most exciting that happened on our trip--we saw a bear! I've been going to Yosemite since I was a kid, and this is the first time I've ever seen a bear. That was a highlight!

Bookfool said...

Oh, wow, gorgeous photos! I've got Unaccustomed Earth on my stacks. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'll be new to her writing.

Gentle Reader said...

bookfool--Hope you enjoy Unaccustomed Earth. Let me know if you like it!

Fay Sheco said...

Do you know an old Dolly Parton song, "Coat of Many Colors?" She wrote this back in her more hillbilly days. Your post inspired me to find it on YouTube. This song has a different twist, in that the child is ridiculed for her coat, but she values it anyway. It's a corny song, but I always liked it for its absolute rock solid identification with its roots.

So fiction about Bengali immigrants brings to mind Appalachian music. I think this underscores your point that some of these experiences travel across cultures.

Gentle Reader said...

fay--Thanks for the link. Good old Dolly! I didn't know that song, but you're right, it's the same idea...the song is so sweet because the little girl values the coat even if nobody else does--I got a little teary listening to it, I must admit!

Re: Unaccustomed Earth, I did enjoy how so many of the things that Lahiri talks about are a part of the immigrant experience for many groups of Americans, not just Bengalis--and, as I mentioned, some of those things are about anyone who feels like an outsider, or misunderstood.

Lesley said...

Beautiful pictures!

Gentle Reader said...

lesley--thanks! It was such a beautiful trip!

C. B. James said...

Your photos are very good.

I'll have to get the new story collection. I could not get into her novel but I loved the earlier collection.

I wish short stories could get more respect.