M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Heaven and Hell" by Jhumpa Lahiri


"Heaven and Hell" by Jhumpa Lahiri is from her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth (2008).   She won the Pulitzer Prize for her first collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies.    Dailylit.com has this story available in ten installments and it can be read there for free.    I read the first installment yesterday and was so taken into the world of the story that I read the other nine today.    The story seems like it would be about twenty pages long in book format.   I am grateful to Dailylit.com and Jhumpa Lahiri for making this story available for free.  ( It was a suggestion of Christina T of Reading Extensively that alerted me to look for work by Jhumpa Lahiri and I thank her for her great suggestion)

I voiced the "complaint" some time ago that I feel the reason I have not read more short stories in the past is that when reading I like to enter the world of the characters and the story.   It seems to me the vehicle of the short story was not suitable for this purpose so I over the years have not really read many short stories at all.   I now see that the vehicle of the short story can be used to to develop a complete world, in the hands of a master.   

Most of her stories are about Bengali immigrants adjusting to live in America while struggling to maintain their cultural identity as Indians.   There are five main characters in "Heaven and Hell".   Pranab Chakrobarty is a graduate student at M I T, a super prestigious technical college in Boston.   He is very homesick for India, especially the food.   One day he sees a Bengali woman and her little girl on the street.  He speaks to them and explains to the mother how home sick he has become.   The woman,  Usha, is homesick herself and invites him to join her and her husband for a meal.   Usha's husband is a research scientist, emotionally detached and interested in little more than his research.   Pranab becomes a regular visitor to the house and the little girl comes to see him as her uncle.   The mother falls in love with him  (her marriage to husband was arranged as is the custom among her social class).   Her husband is too involved in his research to see what is going on.   Lahiri does a great job of bringing  these people to life.   The use of food to convey a sense of culture is masterful.  (I read somewhere that an immigrant to a new country will give us his religion, his language, his culture, and other things but not his food!)   

The story covers about 25 years in the lives of the characters and we really do feel we know what is going on in their lives.   A lot of very interesting things happen and I do not want to give away any more of the in fact exciting plot.    Reading this story on line for free at Dailylit.com was a great way for me to sample her work.   I will for sure now buy her two collections of short stories and perhaps her novel, The Namesake (2003) also.  

Lahiri (Nilanjana Sudeshna is her real name) was born in London in 1967.   Her parents were Bengali immigrants and they moved to the United States when she was three.  Her father was a librarian in Rhode Island.   She has stated that she considers herself an American.    She had a PH.D from Boston University in Renaissance Studies.


8 comments:

Diane said...

This author worked at one of our town libraries when she was in high school :) I've read all her books and loved them.

Suko said...

Excellent review of this short story. I have Interpreter of Maladies, mostly unread--but I know I'll eventually get to them.

ds said...

I haven't read this one yet, but I loved both of Lahiri's other books. You remind me that I promised myself to read this!

Emily said...

I haven't read the book, but The Namesake is an excellent movie!

SmallWorld at Home said...

I really loved this collection of stories and everything else I've read by her!

JoAnn said...

Lahiri is one of my favorite authors. Her stories are so vivid and real that I can remember them clearly more than a year later. I enjoyed her novel, The Namesake, too, but short stories seem where she shines. Unaccustomed Earth is the best!

Literary Feline said...

I wasn't always a fan of short stories but, like you, I came to realize that it takes a special talent to pull a truly good short story off. I think this particular author has that talent. I will definitely look for this story. Thanks for your great review of it.

SusieCat said...

This story was read aloud as part of the NPR/PRI radio program Selected Shorts. "Hell-Heaven" is read by the actress Rita Wolf, who appeared in the film My Beautiful Launderette. Following the reading, SHORTS host Isaiah Sheffer talks to Lahiri about the origins of her fiction and what inspired "Hell-Heaven" in particular. You can download the podcast of the show here (it's the April 6th show): http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast.php?id=510202 (I think it will only be available there until early May)