Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, February 3, 2023

Whereabouts: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri -2021-167 Pages

 Whereabouts: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri -2021- 167 pages - first published in 2018 in Italian by the author and then in her translation in 2021

"Here you are, in the heart of the city, surrounded by the dead: all those souls still wreathed and garlanded, lined up like boxes in the post office. You always occupied your own space. You preferred dwelling in your own realm, closed off. How can I link myself to another person when I’m still struggling, even after your death, to eliminate the distance between you and my mother?" Spoken by the narrator at her father's grave site

 Whereabouts is the fifth novel by Jhumpa Lahiri I have had the great pleasure of reading. I am close to saying it is my favourite. This maybe because of the profound feeling of aloneness wbich the passing of my wife have brought upon me and which is reflected in the narrative.  

Whereabouts follows the daily activities of a 46 year old woman,a professor. We never learn what she teaches. She has never married, is childless, we never learn her name or where she lives but it does seem she lives in Europe. Never has she been outside the city in which she resides. She has a relationship with an older, married man, a writer and a scholar. There seems little passion between them. His wife is frequently out of town and they meet in his apartment. It seems almost like a way to kill time.

The narrator loves swimming in the local pool, but afterward, in the locker room, she eavesdrops on the naked women who chat and confess their misfortunes, which robs her of whatever contentment she had found. “As I take in these losses, these tragedies, it occurs to me that the water in the pool isn’t so clear after all,” Lahiri writes. “It reeks of grief, of heartache. It’s contaminated.” A carefree vacation reminds her of her unhappy origins. A pharmacist encourages her to pamper her skin with a scented oil, and she buys pills for her headaches.

The numerous reviews of Whereabouts in major sources like The New York Time, The Harvard Review, The Guardian all talk a lot about what is to be made of the fact that Lahiri originally wrote the work in Italian then translated it into English.  

The narrator toward the end of the novel is given a grant to participate in a symposium in her field she will travel outside of her country.

Perhaps I am reaching but I see the narrator's teaching, her love of reading, her frequent visits to her mother, whose death will set a bookmark in her life, her residing in a presumably ancient city as meditation on death.

The narrator's observations about those she encounters are acute, things of beauty. The prose exquisite. The chapters are all quite short and named after where the narrator is located as she goes about her day.

"Jhumpa Lahiri is the author of four works of fiction: Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, and The Lowland; and a work of nonfiction, In Other Words. She has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize; the PEN/Hemingway Award; the PEN/Malamud Award; the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award; the Premio Gregor von Rezzori; the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature; a 2014 National Humanities Medal, awarded by President Barack Obama; and the Premio Internazionale Viareggio-Versilia, for In altre parole. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2012, and named Commendatore Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic) by President Sergio Mattarella in 2019. Editor of The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories, she has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award, both as a novelist and as a translator." From the publisher 


1 comment:

Mystica said...

I like this author very much. This book is new to me