Unaccustomed Earth Summary

Introduction

The eight stories in Unaccustomed Earth fall into two groups. The first five share only themes; the characters and settings are independent of one another. The last three can be read independently, but work better as they are designed: as a triptych telling the story of Hema and Kaushik. The first story focuses on their meeting as children; the second follows Kanushik when his father remarries; the third focuses on their reunion as adults.

However, no matter how distinct the plot twists or character circumstances in any of the stories, as a collection Unaccustomed Earth is markedly unified. All stories focus on members of Bengali families dealing with England or America. All are richly detailed, painting portraits of the complexity of these families' lives; all deal with making and remaking lives, loves, and identities in the wake of radical disruptions. Often families reform after a family member has died. Sometimes they must learn to function again after an ending of another kind, as when Rahul Mukherjee becomes an alcoholic in "Only Goodness." However, in addition to these disruptions, which could happen to any family, there are always ripples of culture shock. The gap between India and America, or rather, between traditional India as it was, and America as it is coming to be, is brought vividly to life. The result is a set of lovely and accessible stories that blend the cultural and the individual, the exotic and the strikingly domestic.

Unaccustomed Earth Extended Summary

There are five unconnected stories in Part One, and three connected stories in Part Two: "Hema and Kaushik."

Part One

"Unaccustomed Earth"
Ruma, her husband Adam, and their son Akash live in Seattle. Ruma's father comes to visit them after his travels in Europe; he started traveling after Ruma's mother died. When he comes, Ruma is afraid he wants to move in with them, something that had been common in Bengali families. She has to face this issue largely alone, because Adam is away on a business trip. However, her father has gotten used to living alone. What is more, recently he has started dating Mrs. Bagchi, a Bengali widow he met while traveling. When Ruma suggests he move in, he declines the offer. While he is there, Ruma's father puts in a garden. Just before he leaves, he writes a postcard to Mrs. Bagchi in Bengali. Her young son Akash ends up taking the postcard. Ruma realizes her father is dating someone, even though she cannot read the message.

"Hell-Heaven"
This story tells about the relationship between Pranab Chakraborty and the narrator Usha's family. Pranab, who Usha comes to call Pranab Kaku (uncle) is essentially adopted by Usha's family because he is so alone in Boston when he moves there for graduate school. They take him in, feeding him daily, and Usha's mother falls in love with Pranab. Usha's parents had an arranged marriage, and it is one of duty, rather than passion. This makes Boudi all the more vulnerable when Pranab meets an American woman named Deborah, falls in love, and marries her. Boudi predicts they will divorce, and they do, but not for twenty-three years, and then only because Pranab cheats on Deborah. By this time, Usha's family has become like foster parents to Deborah as they had to Pranab.

"A Choice of Accommodations"
Amit and Megan go back to Langford Academy, where Amit went to school, to see his old friend Pam get married. While they are  getting dressed for the wedding, Megan realizes she has a burn on her dress. They plan to attend anyway, but for Amit to stand near Megan to keep people from seeing the burn. As they walk through the grounds, Amit notices what has changed about Langford and what has not and remembers his time there. After the ceremony, while they are socializing, Megan flirts with one of Amit's former classmates, and he ends up drinking too much. When he is looking for a pay phone to call their girls, he walks and walks, and ends up going back to the hotel and passing out. When he wakes up, Megan is there, but they are emotionally distant, since he abandoned her at the party. They walk, talking clumsily, looking for the brunch. They do not find it, but they end up in one of the school dorms, where they have sex.

"Only Goodness"
This story focuses on the toll alcoholism takes on a family. When Rahul Mukherjee visited his sister Sudha at college, she introduced him to alcohol, giving him his first beer. Later, when he was in college and she was visiting, he asked her to buy beer and vodka for him. As they moved through their lives, with her six years older, the...

(The entire section is 1300 words.)