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The rituals of traditional Indian domesticityÄcurry-making, hair-vermilioningÄboth buttress the characters of Lahiri's elegant first collection and mark the measure of these fragile people's dissolution. Frequently finding themselves in Cambridge, Mass., or similar but unnamed Eastern seaboard university towns, Lahiri's characters suffer on an intimate level the dislocation and disruption brought on by India's tumultuous political history. Displaced to the States by her husband's appointment as a professor of mathematics, Mrs. Sen (in the same-named story) leaves her expensive and extensive collection of saris folded neatly in the drawer. The two things that sustain her, as the little boy she looks after every afternoon notices, are aerograms from homeÄwritten by family members who so deeply misunderstand the nature of her life that they envy herÄand the fresh fish she buys to remind her of Calcutta. The arranged marriage of "This Blessed House" mismatches the conservative, self-conscious Sanjeev with ebullient, dramatic TwinkleÄa smoker and drinker who wears leopard-print high heels and takes joy in the plastic Christian paraphernalia she discovers in their new house. In "A Real Durwan," the middle-class occupants of a tenement in post-partition Calcutta tolerate the rantings of the stair-sweeper Boori Ma. Delusions of grandeur and lament for what she's lostÄ"such comforts you cannot even dream them"Ägive her an odd, Chekhovian charm but ultimately do not convince her bourgeois audience that she is a desirable fixture in their up-and-coming property. Lahiri's touch in these nine tales is delicate, but her observations remain damningly accurate, and her bittersweet stories are unhampered by nostalgia. Foreign rights sold in England, France and Germany; author tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
The past few years have seen a number of fine writers springing from India--some living on the subcontinent and others, like the author of this collection of stories, who live elsewhere but whose work is still imbued with Indian culture and sensibilities. In varying degrees, Lahiri explores "Indianness" in all her stories, wherever they are set. Some, such as "A Real Durwan," take place in urban settings in or near Calcutta. Others deal with immigrants at different stages on the road to assimilation. In "A Temporary Matter," Lahiri's sensitive and subtle portrayal of a troubled marriage, the fact that the couple is Indian seems almost incidental. In the title story, Mr. and Mrs. Das, both born in America, are taking their children to visit India for the first time. One of Lahiri's gifts is the ability to use different eyes and voices. Readers who enjoy these stories should also appreciate the work of Bharati Mukherjee and G. S. Sharat Chandra's collection Sari of the Gods, which was published last year. --Mary Ellen Quinn