Adriana Martinez's Reviews > Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
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Jun 01, 10

bookshelves: book-club-book
Read from May 21 to 22, 2010

Eventually all best selling authors develop a formulaic outline with which to make as much money as humanly possible. Lahiri is no different and if “Unaccustomed Earth” isn’t a journey into the mind of a Pulitzer-worthy literary genius it must instead be a lesson in predictable and completely flat storytelling. Exactly how many stories I don’t know, I only managed to get through the third story, which is by far the most boring and uninteresting tale ever put to paper, and this is when I officially put the book down. I have never, for any reason, quit reading a book. The first story was good, not great as in Pulitzer Prize material but she did build decent characters and I enjoyed the fine-tuned details and the energy she used to describe EVERYTHING but it’s quickly forgotten and completely veiled beneath the exact mundane existence of the exact same characters story after story.

The only words found within the pages of this book that are worthy of a prize winning author are not even hers they are of Nathaniel Hawthorne. - "Human nature will not flourish, anymore than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn out soil. My children have had other birth places, and, so far as their fortunes be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.” Shame such a great title was wasted on such a sloppy book. I won’t mention all the grammar issues since these were probably not her fault but instead the fault of her editor. I have to believe they were indeed errors since her characters were all educated in ivy league schools who in no way would lapse into such problematic language.

I do wish I would have read her Pulitzer Prize winning book instead. But having had such a sour experience I almost fear reading a book that may not be worthy of such accolades. I’m reminded of Edith Wharton who was uneasy about her Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence. And rightfully so she was well aware that her novel in no way satisfied the criteria for the Pulitzer at that time and she was right. Of course “The Age of Innocence” is a great book but “House of Mirth” is superior and in fact since I won’t be reading anymore Lahiri, I believe I will dust off my copy and indulge in some Pulitzer-worthy literature.
Follow-up notes:
We have a rule at our house; we always complete a book despite an author’s inability to inspire or rouse the imagination. I am in the process of encouraging my twelve year old son to finish Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. He quit half way through the book claiming it’s just too boring. So, unable to continue staring at an unread book I finished Unaccustomed Earth and I am glad I did. I must stand by my earlier conclusion, this is not a masterful work of prose or worthy of Pulitzer praise but I did find Part II thought-provoking and full of great details with respects to setting, dialogue and family dynamics. And in this case the predictability factor wasn’t necessarily obvious but instead dealt with via foreshadowing thereby providing a glimpse of how this story would eventually end.

Ultimately, one must draw wisdom from the faults of the many characters in all of these stories, Part 1 included. And while it’s subtle, almost each character recognizes their inability to be open and engaging or to let their wishes and dreams be known to the people who mean the most to them. This inability to fully and openly communicate within the complex layers of family dynamics and generational differences transcends all cultures. And, you can fully appreciate this phenomenon without reading Part 1 of this book. So with this new "appreciation" for portions of her work and of this book I am now considering reading her Pulitzer Prize winning novel. In due course!


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