In her first novel The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri writes, “Though they are home they are disconcerted by the space, by the uncompromising silence that surrounds them. They still feel somehow in transit, still disconnected from their lives, bound up in an alternate schedule, an intimacy only the four of them share.”
While The Namesake is not the work earning Jhumpa Lahiri her initial critical praise and the coveted Pulitzer Prize, it does specify the major celebrated themes of her writings.
Born in London, England, in 1967, Lahiri grew up in an academic family with Bengali roots; her parents were a teacher and a librarian, respectively. After enrolling at New York City’s Barnard College, the future Pulitzer Prize winner graduated an English major in 1989. Aggressively pursuing post-graduate degrees, Lahiri earned two master’s degrees, Creative Writing and Comparative Studies in Literature and Arts, as well as a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies from Boston University.
After teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design and Boston University, the acclaimed author wrote The Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories which invite readers to experience the complications of many Indian-Americans and Indian immigrants in America. Lahiri seamlessly guides her reader in the opening story, “A Temporary Matter,” through the ins-and-outs of an Indian-American couple’s courtship, marriage and the inevitable challenges the union brings. In the final story, The Third and Final Continent, she intimately plugs her reader into the budding life of a newly immigrated academic in America.
Lahiri’s unique subjects and distinctive perspectives quickly brought rewards: The Interpreter of Maladies received numerous critical accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize and the 1999 O. Henry Award for her story “The Interpreter of Maladies.”
Lahiri’s highly-anticipated second book was her first novel. Appropriately titled The Namesake, it explores cultural identity, social adaptation and the tension between tradition and youth. The reader witnesses the maturation of Gogol, an American-born Bengali, and his struggle with his familial history and the exciting, luring American culture. Filled with the symbolic disgust of Gogol’s own name and the subtle, but present moments of confinement, Lahiri again has granted her audience an entertaining, culturally relevant and artistically-written and structured piece of writing. The Namesake recently was adapted into a screenplay, opening in theatres by November 2006.
With two best-selling works, Lahiri clearly has emerged as an up-and-coming talent and a young, authoritative voice of the multicultural American. In a March 6, 2006, Newsweek article, Lahiri admittedly professes “like many immigrant offspring I felt intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new, approved of on either side of the hyphen.”
While Lahiri proclaims she often feels torn between the modern and traditional world, the literary world has shown absolutely no signs of being torn about the young talent who continues to provide readers with a significant glimpse into the personal development of a diversifying America.