Summary and book reviews of Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

Whereabouts

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri X
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
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  • Published:
    Apr 2021, 176 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

A marvelous new novel from the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Lowland and Interpreter of Maladies--her first in nearly a decade.

Exuberance and dread, attachment and estrangement: in this novel, Jhumpa Lahiri stretches her themes to the limit. The woman at the center wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and the refusal to form lasting ties. The city she calls home, an engaging backdrop to her days, acts as a confidant: the sidewalks around her house, parks, bridges, piazzas, streets, stores, coffee bars. We follow her to the pool she frequents and to the train station that sometimes leads her to her mother, mired in a desperate solitude after her father's untimely death. In addition to colleagues at work, where she never quite feels at ease, she has girl friends, guy friends, and "him," a shadow who both consoles and unsettles her. But in the arc of a year, as one season gives way to the next, transformation awaits. One day at the sea, both overwhelmed and replenished by the sun's vital heat, her perspective will change.

This is the first novel she has written in Italian and translated into English. It brims with the impulse to cross barriers. By grafting herself onto a new literary language, Lahiri has pushed herself to a new level of artistic achievement.

On the Sidewalk

In the mornings after breakfast I walk past a small marble plaque propped against the high wall flanking the road. I never knew the man who died. But over the years I've come to know his name, his surname. I know the month and day he was born and the month and day his life ended. This was a man who died two days after his birthday, in February.

It must have been an accident on his bike or his motorcycle. Or maybe he was walking at night, distracted. Maybe he was hit by a passing car.

He was forty-­four when it happened. I suppose he died in this very spot, on the sidewalk, next to the wall that sprouts neglected plants, which is why the plaque has been arranged at the bottom, at the feet of passersby. The road is full of curves and snakes uphill. It's a bit dangerous. The sidewalk is vexing, crowded with exposed tree roots. Some sections are nearly impossible to negotiate because of the roots. That's why I, too, tend to walk on the road.

There's usually a candle ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Lahiri's protagonist is a moody storyteller, but it is the bitterness of her emotions that shocks her surroundings to life, and even her more anxious and disturbing thoughts contain a certain strange beauty. Buried in the novel's sparseness is a deceptively alive story that builds in momentum even as it offers little in the way of actual plot. Whereabouts reminds us that there is no escape from the confines and consequences of physical place and time, but its portrayal of these elements is cathartic, stimulating and satisfying...continued

Full Review Members Only (557 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
Depression is a perfectly legitimate subject for fiction, of course, and God knows it’s an exigent aspect of modern life. But the insular nature of the condition makes it extraordinarily difficult to render in an emotionally compelling way. The late, great Anita Brookner managed to pull off that feat to haunting effect, but in Whereabouts, descriptions of chilled despair have been so aggressively honed that there’s little for us to hang on to but the sighs.

The Atlantic
Whereabouts is rendered in short, journal-like fragments so strongly and rightly voiced that other books sound wrong when you turn to them.

Los Angeles Times
Whereabouts signals a new mode for Lahiri, and a daring transformation . . . It feels true and wise to the core.

USA Today
Poetic as she is and always has been, seemingly innocuous turns of phrase cut to the core, while descriptions of light and darkness take you aback and make you swoon. Elegantly observed and often beautifully sad.

New York Times
The most exciting moments of Whereabouts are when it becomes a novel of thinking, when it dives down into its sharp fragments...Lahiri’s commitment — to write fiction in Italian, while also, in this novel, paring language down to a minimalist power — begins to create a generalized syntax, disconcertingly simplified...It’s not that the descriptions are clumsy; rather, language glides along the surface of things. The polished words sometimes seem to lose contact with living existence.

Kirkus Reviews
[The novel's] spare, reflective prose and profound interiority recall the work of Rachel Cusk and Sigrid Nunez as much as Lahiri's earlier fiction...Elegant, subtle, and sad.

Booklist
Painterly…exquisitely detailed…[Lahiri's] language seems to have been sieved through a fine mesh, each word a gleaming gemstone...An incisive and captivating evocation of the nature and nexus of place and self.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] meditative and aching snapshot of a life in suspension...Lahiri's poetic flourishes and spare, conversational prose are on full display. This beautifully written portrait...captures the hopes, frustrations, and longings of solitude and remembrance.

Library Journal (starred review)
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Lahiri brilliantly elevates the quotidian to the sublime in this gorgeous stream-of-consciousness window into the interior life of an accomplished woman. Written in Italian and translated by Lahiri herself; with special appeal to readers of Rachel Cusk's Outline trilogy.

Reader Reviews

Margot P

Slices of life
While Whereabouts is a novel in the technical sense, it’s really just slices of life in a year of a floundering 40ish Italian woman in an unnamed city. The writing is gorgeous, especially considering it was translated from Italian to English by ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Exophonic Authors

Jhumpa Lahiri wrote her novel Whereabouts in Italian, a language she learned in adulthood, and later translated it into English. Many authors have at some time made the decision to become exophonic (to write in a language other than one's native tongue), whether for personal, artistic, practical or political reasons.

The author who is possibly best known for doing this is Irish writer Samuel Beckett, who famously adopted French in order to write "sans style" (without style). While he eventually returned to English, some of his most famous works were originally composed in French, including the play En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) and the trilogy of novels beginning with Molloy.

Hungarian writer Ágota Kristóf's short ...

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