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Listening to the Silence

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Karen Maitland
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Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri In this collection of short stories, the author parts the veil, allowing the reader a glimpse into the lives of the families whose stories she tells. The first five stories each focus on a different person, while the final three are snapshots from different portions of one life as told by two people.

The thread that seems to connect them eight is a sense of loss both in home but sometimes in death, a marriage falling apart, a relationship disintegrating. The loss of place, a knowing where your feet belong in this world is the more subtle, but more powerful element of the two. All of the characters have at some point left behind their Indian roots for a more prosperous life in the United States, yet they always remain off-balance, as do their children who can never be either Indian or American. I really appreciated how the author handled this aspect of her stories. As I read I never lost that sense of being off-kilter. The author's ability to maintain this balancing act throughout the entire collection was singularly impressive.

I was equally impressed with the gentleness of the stories. The author painted a moving portrait of the everyday and greater loses we all exprince daily, yet she was never heavy-handed or maudlin about it. It is in this that I was surprisingly reminded of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, though the two books couldn't be more different stylistically.

Like most short story collections I was left wanting more. However, it is that desire for more that will certainly drive me to read more by Lahiri. I think this is a very good example of a short story colection, that even those who do not typically enjoy the format would like.