Jhumpa Lahiri’s books touch the hearts of her readers. Her description of the character’s experiences pull the reader’s attention to the compelling stories of native and immigrant Indians. Most of her characters are Indian. Yet the situations they face and their feelings transcend race and ethnicity. Sometimes, the Indian ethnicity of her characters is incidental.
Most of the characters experiences are universal and relatable to all. Especially for people who have moved outside and even within the country. Besides, anybody can feel like a foreigner even within their family, community or workplace.
India is a country of diverse cultures and for various reasons, people leave their regions and settle in other parts of the country. So adjusting, feeling mildly displaced within India is a common feeling. People move places for work or education and settle there for years or generations. So for example, a second-generation North Indian Punjabi settled in South Indian state of Tamil Nadu could be speaking fluent Tamil and assimilate in the local culture. Or think of families from Orissa settled in Gujarat. This is the reason her stories are relatable to Indians living in India and also Indians living outside India.
Jhumpa Lahiri biography
Jhumpa was born in London in 1967. Her proper name is Nilanjana Lahiri and Jhumpa is her pet name. Yet her school teachers allowed her to continue with her pet name because it’s easier for the Americans to say it. Jhumpa is not only an author but also a translator and teacher. She writes fiction about Indian immigrant experiences inspired by her own and those shared by her friends and family. Jhumpa’s Bengali parents migrated to the USA from London when she was 3 yrs old. Her parents followed Indian culture because Jhumpa’s mother was particular that her little girl grew up knowing the Indian heritage.
Her father worked as a librarian and her mother as a teacher. So reading books for information and recreation was part of her childhood. She went on to study literature and creative writing in college. Jhumpa lived in the USA for over 40 years and shifted to Rome, Italy sometime between 2011-12. She wrote her recent novels in Italian. English translation of her Italian novels are bestsellers among her loyal readers.
Collection of Jhumpa Lahiri Award-Winning Short Stories
- Interpreter of Maladies
- Unaccustomed Earth
Jhumpa Lahiri Award-Winning Novels
Nonfiction Books of Jhumpa Lahiri
- In Other Words
- Clothing of Books
Many of her uncollected short stories and other literary works appeared in “The New Yorker” and elsewhere.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s prominent awards for her books
- PEN/Hemingway Award for “Interpreter of Maladies” in 1999 for Best Fiction Debut of the Year.
- Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for “Interpreter of Maladies” her debut book of short stories in 2000.
- Asian American Literary Award for “Unaccustomed Earth”, won in 2009.
- Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for “Unaccustomed Earth”, won in 2009.
- Premio Gregor von Rezzori Award, Jhumpa won for translating “Unaccustomed Earth” in 2009.
- DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for her book “Lowland” in 2014.
Immigrants in Jhumpa Lahiri books
Though Jhumpa Lahiri lives outside India, her stories reflect Indian culture and sensibilities. In her childhood, she and her family made regular vacation trips to stay with relatives in Bengal, India. When asked why she wrote such tinged stories about India and the United States of America, Jhumpa Lahiri said writing about immigrants is natural to her as she comes from an immigrant Indian family.
Being an Indian immigrant in the U.S. since childhood has given her more insights into the difficulties of immigrants. Rest she leaves her readers to make their interpretation for themselves. With her literary work, she tries to make sense of some problems for herself and for her readers. Reading through the author’s perspective is rewarding. I love her writing style and how her narrative unfolds with every passing word and sentence. It’s akin to a rolled carpet unrolling as you walk ahead experiencing and absorbing what’s happening around you in Jhumpa’s narrative.
Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri’s 5 Must-Read Books
Interpreter of Maladies
Published in 1999, it won the Pulitzer Award and PEN/Hemingway Award in 2000. Various best book lists have featured this book at the top of the list. Author Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut book, “Interpreter of Maladies” has nine short stories. More than 15 million copies of this book sold worldwide, creating loyal readers of Jhumpa Lahiri’s books.
The stories revolve around the lives of Indians (in India) and immigrant Indians who are adjusting to the American culture and way of thinking. The first-generation immigrants see through the filter of an Indian upbringing. There’s a mixture of various human experiences in Jhumpa’s beautiful narrative. The highly appreciated stories are subtle, about ordinary life with an emotional aspect.
The story converted into a Hollywood movie adaptation by the same name. It’s the first novel by Jhumpa Lahiri and published in 2003. The story set in Calcutta, Boston, and New York City. The Namesake is the story of Bengali immigrants Ashok and Ashima Ganguli and their children. Ashok migrates to Massachusetts as an engineering student. His wife Ashima inclined towards Indian heritage, finds it difficult to adapt to the cultural differences in the new country. Soon a son is born.
As per tradition, the grandfather sends a name by post from India. Sadly, the letter does not reach its destination and grandfather soon expires. Thereafter, Ashok names his little boy Gogol after a Russian author. Gogol boy faces a lot of embarrassing situations due to his name and dislikes his name by the time he is an adolescent. Read Gogol’s journey, cultural disparity, and how the family copes in their adopted country.
Published in 2008, the second book of Jhumpa is a collection of short stories. The Unaccustomed Earth has won Asian American Literary Award, Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award (2009) and appeared in several best books lists. The name of the book reveals its theme on people displaced from their familiar locations. The book has two sections that touch the lives and issues of the second-generation Indian American community.
The crisp narrative beautifully shows the characters efforts to balance the best of both cultures. The title story presents views of different generations. The first story is about the evolution of gender stereotypes in a country that values freedom. The next story is about homesickness and how strong feelings for the familiar comfort of home can draw people together. Engaging stories about companionship, relationship, and commitment will keep you hooked to the book.
The award winning novel published in 2014 has an intriguing story about two brothers of a traditional family living in a Kolkata neighborhood. They are always together while growing up and often mistaken for the other. Even though they are together most of the time, they are opposite in nature and have their unique destinies. Udayan is charming, impulsive, and interested in politics.
He has political beliefs and committed to the Naxalite movement. This strong belief leads him to take risks. Subhash, the other brother, is dutiful and inclined towards research. He leaves Kolkata and moves to a remote place in America to pursue scientific research. Udayan gets into critical situations and Udayan’s wife is heartbroken. Subhash returns back to Kolkata to heal the family wounds. The story has suspense and dynamics of family ties. Freewill, ideals, loss, family bond, ambition, an unusual twist of events, and activism is part of the story’s theme.
English edition published in 2021, this short novel or novella traces the whereabouts of an Italian widow to various places around her. Jhumpa Lahiri’s previous novels have Indian characters and written in English. This one has Italian characters, originally written in Italian and translated into English. It’s Jhumpa’s third novel after Namesake and Lowland. Her narrative is about the solitude of the lady who refuses to commit to a relationship.
Reading effortlessly, we go along, following the woman around pizzeria, bridges, parks, and everywhere she goes. She visits her old mother, her father isn’t around anymore. She has her share of girl and guy friends apart from a certain someone who is supportive yet unsettling. If you wished to follow someone and know what their life is like, peep into their mind and know what’s happening there, then this book is for you.
Books, not only the words themselves, but the spirit they generate in you, are treasures. They are your friends, your confidants, and sometimes the best and most important people you know. People who understand you, and listen to you, and care for you, and accept you for the unique individual you are. They don’t turn you away when you do something wrong, or when you do something good. Who don’t judge you and don’t speak ill of you. They are your friends. Jhumpa Lahiri’s books voice the situation of humanity.
Interpreter of Maladies makes you read between the lines about multicultural coexistence, arranged marriages, identity, and belonging. Namesake is about assimilating into a new culture despite differences. It is about finding a balance between conflicting thought processes in one’s environment and one’s internal beliefs. Each of Jhumpa Lahiri’s books has given an opportunity for young adults to know a variety of voices of people in varied situations.
Also read articles
- Environmental and wildlife conservation books for kids and adults.
- 9 Amazing Indian Female Authors in English Fiction.
- Best books of Sudha Murthy for adults.
- Best illustrators that brighten up children’s books.
- Best fiction books for middle graders.
- Bestselling English Novels by New Age Indian Authors.
- List of Magazines for Teenagers and Children’s Reading.
- Ways to develop a reading habit: for kids, teenagers and adults.
- Best books on Indian festivals and culture for kids.
- Interesting Fiction Books for Young Adults.