Guide Burning House (Vintage Contemporaries)

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I rarely read more than one book by an author and almost never read short stories, but this collection was worth breaking both those traditions. The first half of the book is comprised of 5 unrelated stories, the second half contains 3 linked stories. The NYT says that the theme of this book is that the United States is still a place where people come to reinvent their lives, which brings with it both promise and consequences, and I agree with their reviewer.

The tone is set with a quote at the beginning from Nathaniel Hawthorne, part of which states: 'My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth. Lahiri is a Bengali Indian, raised in London and now living in the USA, and she draws from this background when fleshing out her characters. She has an uncanny ability to read situations - you feel that you have known similar situations in your own life.

Like 'The Namesake,' these stories are beautifully written. These quiet but powerful stories, detailing the lives of families perhaps very different from our own, teach universal truths. These eight stories by beloved and bestselling author Jhumpa Lahiri take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand, as they explore the secrets at the heart of family life. Here they enter the worlds of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers. Rich with the signature gifts that have established Jhumpa Lahiri as one of our most essential writers, Unaccustomed Earth exquisitely renders the most intricate workings of the heart and mind.

Showcases a considerable talent in full bloom. Never before has Lahiri mined so perfectly the secrets of the human heart. Both universal and deeply felt. A gorgeous, meticulous and inviting work Lahiri's fiction delves deep into the universal theme of isolation. Lahiri handles her characters without leaving any fingerprints. Reading [Lahiri's] stories is hypnotizing-like falling into a dream.

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Lahiri is a genius of the miniature stroke and the great arc. The remarkable poignancy Lahiri achieves in her work The literary prize committees should once again take note Lahiri is a lush writer bringing to life worlds through a pile-up of detail. But somehow all that richness electrifyingly evokes the void Lahiri ingeniously reworks the situation of characters subsisting at point zero, of being stripped down like Lear on the heath. Lahiri, a master storyteller—who, along with Alice Munro, has arguably done more to reinvigorate the once-moribund form than any other contemporary English-language writer—comes full circle with this book, imbued as it is with a sense of passage, of life and death and rebirth.


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Commanding and seamless There might not be a better book of fiction by an American writer published this year But as she proved in Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake , Lahiri writes so compellingly about these conflicts and pays such careful attention to the most emotionally telling of details that each story feels freshly minted The range of human experiences [Lahiri] chronicles is epic, again and again. The first five stories are varied and accomplished [and the final three] are gripping and affecting Wonderful prose and masterful delineation of character.

Louis Post-Dispatch. Lahiri navigates the interlocking themes of identity and assimilation, familial duty and grief Lahiri again delicately writes of the Bengali immigrant experience, perfectly communicating the tension between the ideals of transplanted parents and the ones of their American children, in the short story format that made her so popular in the first place. Lahiri details with quiet precision the divide between American-born children and their Bengali parents.

Beautifully rendered Unaccustomed Earth explores the dilemmas faced by Bengali immigrants in the west, yet its appeal is universal. Lahiri takes the reader from Massachusetts to Italy to London to Thailand as her characters discover love, freedom and the heartbreak of leaving one family to create another.

Reading her stories is hypnotizing—like falling into a dream where colors are brighter, smells sharper and time moves more slowly than in real life. The saga of Hema and Kaushik is Just couples and families joining, coming apart, dealing with immigration, death, and estrangement.

This is true of her debut short-story collection, Interpreter of Maladies which won a Pulitzer in ; her novel, The Namesake a best seller turned Mira Nair film ; and her new book, Unaccustomed Earth —eight mature stories each stretching almost to novella length Lahiri writes often of illnesses, failing marriages, and just plain loneliness, but thanks to her economy and mastery of detail, it never quite crosses over into the sentimental. Nor does it rely on the melodramatic twists that are staples of more middlebrow writers.

Unaccustomed Earth will only burnish that estimable reputation. Her prose style is graceful, elegant, understated. Like Alice Munro, Lahiri is adept at handling chronology, ranging backward and forward in time, compressing lifetimes into a single artfully crafted paragraph. Relish this gorgeous collection. Much of the older generation seeks to honor tradition, and the younger seeks to explore personal choices Like Jane Austen, Lahiri is brilliant at describing ambivalent emotions The stories are so richly detailed in their accounting of time, and so socially layered, that the meeting feels convincingly like destiny In exquisitely attuned prose, Lahiri notes the clash between generations These are unforgettable people, their stories unforgettably well told.

Faltering or triumphant, each tugs at the heart. So thoroughly and judiciously does she use detail that she easily presents entire lives with each story. These are tales of careful observation and adjustment Most moving is the final trio of intertwined stories about loss and connection. In these eight exquisitely detailed stories, Lahiri is less interested in painful family conflicts than in the private moments of sadness that come in their aftermath.

These were the eight main advances I had available to bring to bear on my life on the day I sat repairing the second shoelace to wear out in two days. I took special care to scale down the bunny's ear that I had to form from the now shorter lace-end, so that there would be enough leeway to pull it tight without mishap. I noticed my shoes, too, for the first time in quite a while.

They were no longer new-looking: I thought of them still as new, because I had more or less begun my job with them, but now I saw that they had two deep wrinkle lines above the toe, intersectingly angled, like the line of the heart and the line of the head in palmistry. These creases had always appeared on my shoes in exactly the same form, a puzzling fact that I had thought about often when I was little—I had tried to accelerate the forming of the paired wrinkles by bending a new shoe manually, and I had wondered why, if the shoe had just happened to begin to bend in a certain atypical place, because of a fluke weakness in the leather there, it never established the wrinkle line where it had first bent, but eventually assumed the classic sideways V pattern.

I stood, rolled my chair back into place, and took a step toward my office door, where my jacket hung all day, unused except when the air-conditioning became violent or I had a presentation to give; but as soon as I felt myself take that step, I experienced a sharpening of dissatisfaction with the whole notion that my daily acts of shoe-tying could have alone worn out my shoelaces.

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What about the variety of tiny stretchings and pullings that the shoe itself exerted on its laces as I walked around? Walking was what had worn down my heels; walking was what had put the creases in my shoe-toes—was I supposed to discount the significance of walking in the chafing of my laces? I remembered shots in movies of a rope that held up a bridge cutting itself against a sharp rock as the bridge swayed.

Even if the shoelace's fabric moved only millimetrically against its eyelet with each step, that sawing back and forth might eventually cut through the outer fibers, though the lace would not actually pop until a relatively large force, such as the first tug I gave it when tying, was applied. All right!

Much better! This walkingflexion model as I styled it to myself, in opposition to the earlier pulling-and-fraying model accounted for the coincidence of yesterday's and today's breakages very well, I thought. I almost never hopped, or lounged in a storefront with one foot crossing one ankle, or otherwise flexed one foot to the exclusion of the other—patterns of use that would have worn one shoelace disproportionately.

I had slipped on a curb's icy wheelchair ramp the year before, and had used a crutch the next day, favoring my left leg for a week after that, but five days of limping was probably insignificant, and anyway, I wasn't at all sure that I had worn these, my new and best, shoes that week, since I wouldn't have wanted to get mountain-range salt-stains on the toes.

Still, I reflected, if it were true that the laces frayed from walking flexion, why did they invariably fray only in contact with the top pair of eyelets on each shoe? I paused in my doorway, looking out at the office, with my hand resting on the concave metal doorknob,1 1 Too modem-looking, really, to be called a doorknob. Why can't office buildings use doorknobs that are truly knob-like in shape? What is this static modernism that architects of the second tier have imposed on us: steel half-U handles or lathed objects shaped like superdomes, instead of brass, porcelain, or glass knobs?

The upstairs doorknobs in the house I grew up in were made of faceted glass. As you extended your fingers to open a door, a cloud of flesh-color would diffuse into the glass from the opposite direction.

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The knobs were loosely seated in their latch mechanism, and heavy, and the combination of solidity and laxness made for a multiply staged experience as you turned the knob: a smoothness that held intermediary tumbleral fallings-into-position. Few American products recently have been able to capture that same knuckly, orthopedic quality the quality of bendable straws in their switches and latches; the Japanese do it very well, though: they can get a turn-signal switch in a car or a volume knob on a stereo to feel resistant and substantial and worn into place—think of the very fine Toyota turn-signal switches, to the left of the steering wheel, which move in their sockets like chicken drumsticks: they feel as if they were designed with living elbow cartilage as their inspiration.

But the doorknobs in our house had that quality. My father must have had special affection for them, because he draped his ties over them. Often you had to open a door carefully, holding the knob at its very edge, to avoid injuring the several ties that hung there. The whole upstairs had the air of a nawab's private chambers; as you closed a bedroom, bathroom, or closet door, a heavy plume of richly variegated silks would swing out and sway back silently; once in a while a tie would ripple to the floor, having been gradually cranked into disequilibrium by many turnings of the doorknob.

If I asked to borrow a tie, when I was tall enough to wear them, my father was always delighted: he would tour the doorknobs, pulling promising ties out carefully and displaying them against his forearm, as sommeliers hold their arm-cloths.

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Now this is a very subtle tie What about this tie? When I had dinner with him and other relatives in the first year of my job, I wore the best tie I had bought to date; and as my uncle conferred with the hostess about the table, my father turned toward resisting this further unwelcome puzzlement. I had never heard of a shoelace parting over some middle eyelet. Possibly the stress of walking fell most forcefully on the lace bent around the top eyelets, just as the stress of pulling the laces tight to tie them did.

It was conceivable, though scary to imagine, that the pull-fray model and the walk-flex model mingled their coefficients so subtly that human agency would never accurately apportion cause. I walked to Tina's cube, on the outside wall of which was the sign-out board, and moved the green magnetized puck next to my name from IN to our, bringing it in line with Dave's, Sue's, and Steve's pucks. I wrote "Lunch" in the space provided for explanation, using a green Magic Marker.

Tina had lots of hair, moussed out impressively around a small smart face; she was probably at her most alert just then, because she was watching the phones for Deanne and Julie, the other secretaries in my department, until they returned from lunch after one. In the more private area of her cube, in the shadow of the shelf under the unused fluorescent light, she had pinned up shots of a stripeshirted husband, some nephews and nieces, Barbra Streisand, and a multiply xeroxed sentiment in Gothic type that read, "If You Can't Get Out of It, Get Into It!

He was about forty-five, proud of his kids, wore plaid shirts— he was always associated for me with the feeling of working late, because I could hear the gradual approach of distant papery crashes and the slinkier sounds of sheet plastic as Ray worked his way down the row toward my office, emptying each wastebasket liner into a gray triangular plastic push-dumpster, and thereby defining that day as truly over for that office, even though you might still be working in it, because anything you now threw out was tomorrow's trash. Before he draped a new plastic liner in a wastebasket, he left a second, folded one cached in the bottom for the next day, saving himself a few motions on every stop; and he tied a very fast knot in the plastic so that it wouldn't be pulled in, effectively becoming trash itself, as soon as you discarded something big like a newspaper.

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I winced in office sympathy. He may be out for a while. The person who's been taking Ray's place doesn't know how to get rid of the trapped air. I've been kind of enjoying the effect, though—a pillow effect. He flipped it over, as if he too had to remind himself of the circumstances in which he had bought it "I picked this up at Whillock Brothers. A sudden balloon payment of pride and gratitude expanded within me.

Later still, when I went home to visit, I swapped a tie with him, and when I visited the following Thanksgiving, I spotted what had been my tie hanging over a doorknob in the midst of all the ties he had bought himself, and it fit right in, it fit right in! She led me to a poster laid out on the desk of a research assistant who had called in sick. Here's a pen. Finally I took her pen and studied the poster; it depicted, in felt-tip colors, a vase holding five large, loopy outlined flowers. From your Co-Workers. Intermixed with these were the more varied signatures of a few of the managers and research assistants.

I made an exclamation about its beauty: it was beautiful. I found an unobtrusive petal of the fourth flower: not too prominent, because I had a feeling that I might have been a little on the cool side to Ray recently—you go through inevitable cycles of office friendliness—and I wanted him to see signatures of people whose sentiments he would be absolutely sure of first.

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I almost signed, and then luckily I noticed that my boss Abelardo's tall and horizontally compressed conquistador signature, with lots of overloops and proud flourishes, was located one petal over on the very same flower I had chosen. To sign my name so near his would have been vaguely wrong: it might be construed as the assertion of a special alliance my signature being closer than Dave's or Sue's or Steve's, who also worked for Abelardo , or it might seem to imply that I was seeking out my boss's name because I wanted to be near another exempt person's name, avoiding the secretarial signatures.

I had signed enough office farewell and birthday and get-well cards by that time to have developed an unhealthy sensitivity to the nuances of signature placement.