Unaccustomed earth

At night, after a bath, she slept soundly in Giovanna’s bed, in a room with meager square footage but breathtaking height, enormous shuttered windows that shielded her from the sun but let in every sound; the scooters and cars on Via Arenula, the grates of the shops being raised for business, the perpetual singsong of the ambulance sirens that she found strangely soothing.

I enjoy Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing, which has some similarities with Sarah Maguire. Lahiri writes about Bengali immigrants in the U.S., women caught between expected structures and the pull of a new life, and privileged WASP-y academic liberals.

She is excellent at skewering a character’s background and assumptions in the few words it takes them to set out a plate of carefully “sourced” Parmesan or pin up the washing. The writing plays out in my mind like a film reel. The short stories in her collection “Unaccustomed Earth” are favourites of mine, especially Hema and Kaushik’s story in ‘Going Ashore’.

Turning onto their street, Kaushik noticed a woman standing on the sidewalk, long hair concealing her face, staring down at a map. “Signorina, dove deve andare?” he asked.

The woman looked up, confused, and he realized, in spite of her dark hair and fitted leather coat, that she was not Italian. That in fact she was Indian. That he needn’t have used the polite form in addressing her, that her face was one he’d known.

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