Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Grand Circle of Accomplishments

They are stories about adult children mis-reading their parents; about crushes, current and past, concealed and embarrassingly obvious; about clashes between old-fashioned and modern romance; about using goodness to cover up guilt.

In other words, Jhumpa Lahiri's story collection, Unaccustomed Earth, is about the ordinary trip-ups of life.  Except the actors are second-generation Americans whose parents keep dragging them back to Calcutta for holidays and family visits.

These Indians are poised between wearing saris and wearing jeans, between the passionless camraderie of their parents' arranged marriages and the thrills and betrayals of finding love on their own.  They got their degrees at Swarthmore, Wellesley, Tufts, MIT, NYU, and all the other top-tier colleges that nobody I know has attended.  They live in Seattle, Boston, New York and all the other places the children of yeoman (that would be me) can't afford.  What I'd give to house-sit for the lot of them!

But these are the places where they belong.  After all, a lot is expected of these children:

"And so he became what all parents feared, a blot, a failure, someone who was not contributing to the grand circle of accomplishments Bengali children were making across the country, as surgeons or attorneys or scientists, or writing articles for the front page of The New York Times."

The one thing these people never do is laugh.  I don't know if the pressure to succeed takes all the silly out of them, or if those who have been ruled by the British (a people with just the right touch of silly) don't find life anything to laugh about.

Lahiri is a relatively new star on the literary scene, snapping up awards right and left for her vivid fiction.   I say she deserves every one of them. 

We'll go vegetarian with our recipe today, since we're talking Indians and all.  But if vegetarianism is supposed to be about depriving or moderating yourself, let me just say it's hard to eat moderately when something is covered with so much tasty cheese. 

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