Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri πŸ“–

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

“I dislike waking up and feeling pushed inevitably forward. But today, Saturday, I don’t have to leave the house. I can wake up and not have to get up. There’s nothing better.”

Yes, I bought a copy too. Amidst the pandemic, lockdown and cyclones raging outside, Amazon is still delivering πŸ˜ƒ. It’s a rare buy because it’s just been published this year and I usually play catch up with the books. I read titles several years after that have been published mostly after reading a review about it somewhere. And almost all the books I own are paperbacks and this is a hardbound πŸ“–.

I first read about the book in Twinkle Khannas’s column in ToI titled “Finding solace in stories and sisterhood” where she writes about the book

“… this one seems the right book for our uncertain period. A sense of isolation that is the zeitgeist of our times …”

Then the book made concerted appearance in various book blogs; the verdict is binary, either you like the new Jhumpa Lahiri product or you dismiss it as not being at par with the rest of her work. There is no story is the main complaint.

I liked the book, it’s light, bite sized chapters that stand on their own, not much of drama but filled with reflections – we get glimpse into the life and musings of an unnamed woman living in an unnamed city. It reads like the entries of a journal. Who doesn’t like reading somebody else’s journal !? 😊

The author wrote Whereabouts first in Italian and the self-translated it into English. I read her first Italian title “In Other Words” which was translated by another into English. In Other Words was an autobiographical account, we get a glimpse of the author and her struggles with mastering Italian. It was a brilliant read.

In Wherabouts, the life is ordinary, but the setting being somewhere in Europe makes it exotic and curious read.

” Even though it’s Saturday there’s still a dash of elegance to how people are dressed: the bold shade of a jacket, a bright scarf, the tight lines of a dress. It feels like a party effortlessly organized at the last minute. The piazza becomes a beach on days like this and a sense of well-being, of euphoria, permeates the air “

The book is perfect for the pandemic- cyclone days; it’s raining outside and you can curl up with this pretty cover.

We follow the protagonist down the streets, into the piazza, museums, meeting and dining with friends, to her work, on her journeys, her past. She is a teacher by profession, forty five, lives alone; she has her routines, her close group of friends, her mother.

” I too act as a therapist for a friend of mine…She has everything I don’t, a husband, kids, constant plans, a country house. In other words, the successful life my parents had hoped I’d lead one day….She comes over now and then.”This is the only place where I can relax,” she says. She likes the silence, and not seeing objects scattered everywhere.”

The chapters include the brief narratives of people in her circle; if her world is lopsided, the folks who seem to have it all are not leading perfect lives either. It’s the flaws that are the attraction in the book, no-one and nothing is perfect, everyone is in some state of discomfort. And that’s strangely comforting. Somewhere in the middle you wonder how the book is going to end !?

“And when I wake up in the middle of the night, always at the same time, it’s the absolute silence that interrupts my sleep…..That silence combined with the black sky, takes hold over me until the first light returns and dispels those thoughts, until I hear the presence of lives passing by along the road below me.”

She is free without the entrapments of raising a family but still overwhelmed by expectations and disappointments set in childhood and years down, they still cause pain. There are many such lines that resonate with the average life and relatable on some level. The thoughts of her parents sting like an open wound, but the breach of trust in her subsequent relationships with men she reasons, rationalises and moves on.

You remember Disney’s movie Brave with princess Merida; misunderstood by her mother and receiving no support from her father; I think of the protagonist in Whereabouts an urban version of Merida; but unlike the Disney princess she has no siblings and is not out to rebel, but carries on with her emotional misgivings. She admits she is timid, unable to cross certain boundaries and all this makes her endearing and that’s better than hero worship.

There are so many more quotable lines in the book; it’s a charming read. One more…

” The sky unlike the sea, never holds onto the people that pass through it. The sky contains nothing of our spirit, it doesn’t care. Always shifting, altering it’s aspect from one moment to the next, it can’t be defined.”

This is one of the reasons I love books, the author gives me the words which I struggle to find and lines them up to form perfect sentences that describe what I feel at times. Jhumpa Lahiri is a master at this !

Till next post, take care !!

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