Jhumpa Lahiri has spent her life exploring the world, its cultures, and its languages. She was born in London to Indian immigrant parents, grew up in the United States, and for the last decade has been living in Rome, where, since 2015, she has been writing fiction, essays, and poetry all in Italian. As a bilingual author and translator, Lahiri’s stories often include the comfort that can be found in learning new languages, juxtaposed with the isolation that can be felt as an outsider in your own home. Each book in this collection is as rich and diverse as Lahiri’s background and is a stunning look at the journey of a writer seeking a new voice.
After a post-grad trip to Florence, Lahiri became intrigued by the Italian language — an interest that led to her full immersion in the culture several years later. In this memoir, Lahiri outlines her family’s relocation to Rome and both the joy — and struggle — of learning to read, speak, and write in Italian. Lahiri emphasizes the changes that came to her writing, including the language’s limitations, and the time spent finding confidence in her Italian storytelling ability. In Other Words discusses the writer’s desire to find another language to express herself in, pulling away from her native Bengali and English. Embark with her on this journey to not only learn a third language but find a new way of expressing herself.
Lahiri not only wrote this original text in Italian but translated it to English herself, using both sets of her linguistic skills. Throughout the course of a year, Lahiri’s unnamed narrator feels out of place in the world, but at home in her city. As we see her disorientation from events such as the infidelity she’s experienced, we also see a piece of the city — from the sidewalk, to a pool, to her balcony — that reveals its part in each story. Despite not divulging which city it is, Lahiri paints a clear picture of it as its own character, and our narrator’s closest friend.
In this memoir, Lahiri recounts the ways in which clothing has othered and labeled her as a child, wishing for a uniform to make it all a little simpler. She finds these feelings towards the clothing of her childhood similar to the way she feels about her books and their jackets. Without having a say in cover design, Lahiri feels that most of the covers she’s been given don’t fit her content or herself, wishing for a uniform for her covers as well. Taking us through the history of book covers, and their commercial power, Lahiri teaches us how books are judged and misjudged by their covers.
In this collection of short stories, Rome, Lahiri’s newfound home, becomes its own character. Despite being short stories, Lahiri gives the reader a deep understanding of the immigrant experience, grief, alienation, and community. Italy itself is showcased in all its glory — from its beautiful architecture to its quaint neighborhoods — but Lahiri doesn’t forget the not-so-pretty parts too. Follow the lives of a family on vacation in the Roman countryside, an older couple’s new social life, and a set of steps that connect two Roman neighborhoods and the lives of those who take them every day. Enjoy each story as they send you on your own Roman holiday.
In a story of two brothers, two ponds, and two completely different lives, Lahiri brings us to 1960s Calcutta. Subhash and Udayan Mitra are middle-class brothers, their home sitting at the edge of a lowland — a piece of land between two ponds. While they’re young and under the same roof, the boys are close, but as they grow older their interests change, leading them on different paths. The brothers’ once strong bond begins to deteriorate and is mirrored in the lowland itself. Is blood thicker than water, or will tragedy, politics, and love sever their remaining ties?
In eight short stories, Lahiri explores the complexity of various familial relationships and the dynamics in the lives of Indian-American immigrants, mothers and daughters, estranged siblings, the widowed, and more. Catch a glimpse into various family homes, and in the last three connected stories, follow an affair that blossoms from a childhood friendship into adulthood, where life becomes complicated and tragedy lurks around every corner. Throughout these stories, Lahiri takes us everywhere that holds a part of her — Boston, Kolkata, and Rome. By revealing different pieces of herself in each story, Lahiri brings a greater sense of authenticity to this work of fiction.
This stand-alone short story is told from the perspective of a daughter, but really, it’s a story about her mother. Growing up, Usha watches her mother, Aparna, fall in unrequited love with a fellow Bengali in America. Used to Aparna’s colder side, Usha sees the level of affection that her mother is capable of giving when they take in Pranab as a member of their family, and the depth of pain she experiences when Pranab falls in love with another woman. It’s through watching her mother yearn for someone she can never have that Usha learns who Aparna truly is.
As per Indian customs, a young Indian-American couple chooses to give their son a pet name, as well as an official name chosen by his great-grandmother. But when his great-grandmother dies suddenly, and the letter with the official name doesn’t make it to them, Ashima and Ashoke settle on calling their son by his pet name — Gogol. With a name that carries more weight than Gogol will understand for decades to come, he struggles with accepting this name as he endures bullies at school, leading him to change it before university. Spanning the decades as Gogol grows up and experiences love and loss, it is only when he’s much older that he truly understands what’s in a name.
While not written by Lahiri, the introduction that she did write, and the stories within this collection, bring out another side of her as a reader. In her introduction, Lahiri advises us to read one of these 32 stories per day, to experience a Malgudi month. Malgudi is a fictional town in India that’s home to an astrologer who knows nothing about space, a feud between a sculptor and a priest, the Talkative Man, and many other colorful characters. Lahiri found the stories of Malgudi Days to be much like her own — “brief and full.” With each story being 5-10 pages long, you may turn Lahiri’s suggestion of a Malgudi month into a Malgudi day of your very own.
With an introduction from Lahiri herself comes a collection of the Italian stories that have made her into the writer she is today. After fully immersing herself in Italian culture, and deciding to read and write exclusively in the language, Lahiri was liberated after many years of speaking Bengali and English. These forty different authors have each provided Lahiri with an unforgettable story that has solidified her identity with the Italian language and given her new opportunities as a writer. With stories like Silence by Aldo Palazzeschi, A Martian in Rome by Ennio Flaiano, and Life as a Couple by Luce D’Eramo, you’ll see their storytelling influence in Lahiri’s own.