RoadTrip America

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Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Read by Sarita Choudhury and Ajay Naidu)

Unaccustomed Earth is an apt title for this collection of eight short stories dealing with first generation Bengali immigrants to the United States. The author, Jhumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer-prize winner for her earlier debut collection of stories, creates characters and plots that engage the listener from the first paragraph. When her newly widowed father plans a visit to Ruma's new home in Seattle, she's jolted into the realization that Bengali custom dictates that she and her husband invite him to live with them permanently. As she becomes reacquainted with the man she remembers as reserved and formal, she begins to see him in a new light, but it's soon apparent that Bengali custom would serve neither of them well. Each of the stories deals in some way with the culture clash between life according to Old World standards and modern American convention, but each is really more about the dynamics common to families in any culture.

The final trilogy of stories follows two characters, Hema and Kaushik, from their first encounter as children, to their reacquaintance as teenagers, to their reunion as 40-something lovers. Lahiri weaves a cast of characters and a series of situations into a rich, vibrant tapestry, reminiscent of the intricate and colorful design of a traditional henna tattoo. Lahiri uses dialogue effectively to establish personal traits, habits, histories and motivations for her characters, using the fewest, most carefully chosen words. Although these are only short pieces, each leaves a lingering impression one normally experiences only after finishing a full-length novel.

Adding to the beauty of the audio book is the narration by Sarita Choudhury and Ajay Naidu who read the female and male dialogue and points of view respectively. This technique and their skillful presentations give the listener the feeling of participating in a personal conversation with the characters in the stories. Both Choudhury and Naidu add the proper cadence and lilt to the Indian dialect when appropriate for a character's words.

To say that Unaccustomed Earth is a beautiful and affecting addition to contemporary literature would be an understatement. Not only are the plots and characters memorable and engaging, but the message of the need for universal acceptance of differences and commonalities is awe-inspiring. This book is highly recommended for entertainment, enlightenment and enrichment. Lahiri serves up all three in one enchanting collection.

Ruth Mormon

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