Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The Writer Who Began With a Hyphen (

Jhumpa Lahiri Comes to DC

Here is a nice article on Pulitzer Prize winning Jhumpa Lahiri from today's Washington Post. Her latest work, a novel entitled The Namesake (I am working on a review right now--in case any of you want to publish it...i have to try:) is a really well written book, that is attractive I think to both South and non South-Asian Americans. Sure the theme focuses on a First generation South Asian-American and his life in America, but it could be about anyone's coming of age. For those of us who are first generation, obviously this book is something we can identify with. But, and this is a big but, the book is not limited to this cross cultural theme. I could go on, but I am going to save it for my article.

Anyway, here are a couple of excerpts that the Post printed. I am partial to the first.

From "The Namesake":

For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy -- a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.

She knew who she was: Indian American. London-born Deshi. And yet, the American part was hard to claim. "I really felt it would be a betrayal of my parents to call myself American," she says. But on visits to India, she was the American.

It is the complications of being a hyphenated American that informs her work, the same challenges that face Gogol, the American-born protagonist in "The Namesake":

"Teleologically speaking, ABCDs are unable to answer the question, 'Where are you from?' " the sociologist on the panel declares. Gogol has never heard the term ABCD. He eventually gathers that it stands for "American-born confused deshi." In other words, him. He learns that the C could also stand for "conflicted." He knows that deshi, a generic word for "countryman," means "Indian," knows that his parents and all their friends always refer to India simply as desh. But Gogol never thinks of India as desh. He thinks of it as Americans do, as India.

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

Incidentally, she will be giving a reading tonight at Washington D.C.'s Politics and Prose Bookstore. Well, it is actually across the street.


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