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Jhumpa Lahiri is absolutely a writer you should know. In addition to her numerous awards (Pulitzer Prize, PEN / Hemingway Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, Asian American Literary Award, and National Humanities Medal, to name a few), Lahiri is one of the most talked about writers of the early 2000s. And with her new novel, Whereabouts coming out April 27th, we may see her name hit the headlines and bestseller lists again very soon. But if you’re new to Jhumpa Lahiri’s job, how do you decide where to start? With novels, short story collections, and non-fiction books, it can be difficult to decide where to start. It is for this reason that we have created this guide to Jhumpa Lahiri’s best books from their 1999 debut to the present day.
Who is Jhumpa Lahiri?
Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London to Bengali immigrants and moved to Rhode Island with her family when she was 3 years old. The experience of first generation immigrants, especially Indian Americans, is a focus of their work. Her characters often face cultural clashes between their home countries and their new home countries. She also highlights the difficult position of first generation Americans who meet their parents’ expectations and try to live authentically. Lahiri’s prose is calm and frugal, but remarkably powerful, and her characters’ struggles with heritage and social expectations are unforgettable.
After moving to Italy in 2011, Lahiri learned to speak and write in Italian and was fascinated by the language and the translation process. Lahiri began translating works by other authors from Italian into English and then tried something completely new. She started writing in Italian, exploring how the new language affected her work, and then translating it into English. In this way she published two collections of non-fiction books and a novel in Italian. Her upcoming novel Whereabouts was first published in Italian in 2018.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s work has grown and changed since her first collection of short stories was published in 1999. Your future books are sure to take readers on an unexpected journey. But first, let’s talk about where to start with the Jhumpa Lahiri books currently available.
Start with short stories
Interpreter of diseases from Jhumpa Lahiri
Call me a traditionalist, but I think Jhumpa Lahiri’s first published book is the perfect place to start her work. Lahiri broke into the literary scene with Interpreter of Maladies and received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Best New York Debut of the Year, and even a spot on Oprah Winfrey’s book list. The stories show Indians and Indians navigating the crossroads of their ancestral and chosen homelands, a signature of Lahiri’s work. Start with Interpreter of Maladies for the enchanting prose, heartfelt characters, and short form that made Lahiri famous.
Unfamiliar earth from Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri’s second collection of short stories takes the themes of her first book a little further. The eight stories in Unaccustomed Earth are longer, more complex and more emotional. They also go several generations beyond those in their previous stories about Indian Americans, and some of the stories are related. Family ties and cultural expectations are again the star of the show, but as Lahiri evolves her characters it shows her mastery and skill as a writer. It’s not often that a collection of short stories can make you cry, but this one definitely will.
Next a novel
The lowlands of Jhumpa Lahiri
If you’ve read some of Lahiri’s short forms you’ll see how brilliantly she can tell a longer story. The lowlands begins with two inseparable brothers, Subhash and Udayan, in Calcutta in the 1960s. Their paths diverge when Subhash moves to graduate school in Rhode Island and Udayan stays behind and joins the Naxalite movement. As they get older and farther apart, their love, tragedies, and family ties prove that their paths are forever intertwined. This epic, emotional story explores topics such as identity, fate, and legacy.
The namesake of Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, later turned into a film with Kal Penn, began as a story in The New Yorker. Gogol Ganguli grew up in Boston as a child of Bengali immigrants, embarrassed by his strange name. His story ends with familiar topics such as clashes between family and culture, as well as deeply human experiences of loss, love, and self-discovery. Gogol’s journey to find the boundaries of his own identity moves, revealing the quiet moments where Jhumpa Lahiri really shines.
Meet the author
In other words from Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri’s first work in nonfiction shows a shift in focus and it is her most personal work to date. After moving to Italy and learning Italian, she fell in love with the language. She was even more intrigued by the process of learning a new language and the way language shapes the world we experience. Originally written in Italian, In Other Words tells Lahiri’s story of how to learn to express yourself and find your voice in a new language. By reflecting on her own experience of learning Italian, she also explores the concept of belonging. If you’re looking forward to reading whereabouts in April, In Other Words is the perfect book to get a glimpse of Lahiri’s language trip in the meantime.
We hope this guide to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Best Books has helped you decide where to start with the works of the beloved author! Be sure to read the Reading Paths to your favorite authors. You could also enjoy: