Unaccustomed Earth Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

Jhumpa Lahiri occupies a complex position in the critical landscape. On one hand, her works are reviewed upon or even prior to release in an array of popular magazines not known for their literary discernment. For example, Shape, a women's magazine focusing on diet and fitness, reviewed Unaccustomed Earth. Lahiri is both a popular writer (Unaccustomed Earth debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list) and an accessible one. Lev Grossman's bio-critical piece in Time specified that readers would not find any vocabulary above tenth grade level in her work. Writing for Time, Boris Kachka agrees, saying, "Stylistically, she doesn't have a hook." Kachka goes on to discuss how stylistically conservative Lahiri's fiction is, and how middle-class her focus.

On the other hand, Kachka points out that everyone will find something in the collection to make them weep. Donna Seaman refers to Lahiri as an "an inspired miniaturist," and finds her work powerful and haunting. Seaman specifies that Unaccustomed Earth will appeal to both serious and pleasure readers. Hirsh Sawhney helps readers understand Lahiri by delineating how her fiction works in a New England tradition. Specifically, Sawhney sees Lahiri's work as echoing the worldview of fellow New England writer J. D. Salinger. Sawhney also draws attention to the quotation from Nathanial Hawthorne that Lahiri chose to open the collection, arguing that like Hawthorne, Lahiri is writing about the universal human condition (and, more or less by implication, that those who focus on the surface subject, the Bengali-American experience, are missing much of the point). He does note, though, that Lahiri limits her attention to the upper economic classes, thereby limiting her focus and impact. This causes her view of America to be somewhat outdated and therefore akin to her predecessors' in less positive ways.