Setting

In each of these stories, there are two or three settings. In fact, you could say that one of the defining factors of these stories and the characters in them is that they are shaped by multiple locations. One of these is always India, which looms in the background of all of the tales like a great anchoring dreamscape. None of the stories are actively set in present day India. However, people continually come from India or return there. It hovers in everyone's memories, and at least one major character in each story is from there, visits there, and/or remembers its food and customs as the setting of childhood. India is the past.

The second setting is the specific geographic location of the various stories. These settings range in importance and specificity. In "Unaccustomed Earth," for example, the Seattle setting is left largely generic, and it is mainly important because it is far from anyplace Ruma and her father have been before. London functions much the same way for Sudha, though there are a few exotic features like the museums that play a larger part. By contrast, the cities in the "Hema and Kaushik" section play a much greater role. Boston is important because it is markedly, emphatically not Bombay in "Year's End," and there is a definite sense of the alien nature of Rome in "Going ashore."

The third and most important setting in each location, though, is one or more of the domestic settings that Jhumpa Lahiri makes resonant and real. In "Unaccustomed Earth," it is the garden that Ruma's father plants while he is visiting. In "Year's End," it is the home that Kaushik's new stepmother is making over in her own image, exorcising his mother's presence. And in "Nobody's Business," it is the house that Paul and Sang share, and even the room that she paints, the room Paul invades that seems so intensely her own. In this collection, the domestic settings are real, vivid, and immediate.