Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories was a fascinating throwback to the time I lived in Calcutta. After having been in close contact with Bengali culture, I quite enjoyed the vignettes in the book. The food, the societal norms, the connection to Calcutta were all evocative of a different life, a half-remembered memory.
I would recommend this collection even if you don’t know anything about Calcutta or India because their beauty lies in the little moments of human emotion that Lahiri captures exceptionally well. A common thread through most of these stories is marriage. Some of them are arranged marriages where you see the characters learn to grow accustomed to each other, while others are love marriages where the couple could feel like strangers after years of living together. The stories that I liked the best were ones that were based on unlikely friendships between older and younger people.
Many of the stories are about immigrants too, the problems that they face and you realize that oftentimes, they don’t really want to live in the country that they moved to, the countries that they travelled from will always be “home”. I think this is an interesting perspective from the author’s personal experience in living with two different cultures (Lahiri is of Indian descent).
If you’re interested in a glimpse into Bengali culture, here is a clip from The Namesake, a novel by Lahiri, which is also highly recommended.