Jhumpa Lahiri is a celebrated writer of critically acclaimed and loved books including The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, Interpreter of Maladies and the Lowland. Charting a path on cultural relocations, she herself moved to Rome a few years ago and adopted Italian as her new language. She has learn the language and published a book called In Other Words in her new home. And now she has presented readers with her latest creation called Whereabouts. A book she wrote in Italian as Dove mi trovo and then translated in English herself.
I was intrigued by the concept and so I read this book and here is our book review on behalf of Team Thinkerviews.
|Book Title||:||Whereabouts: A Novel|
Penguin Hamish Hamilton ( 26 April 2021)
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC ( 31 March 2022)
|# of Pages||:||176 (Paperback) 177; 1320 KB (Kindle EBook) 176 (Hardcover) 203 Minutes (Audiobook)|
|# of Chapters||:||46|
Let us take a look at the cover page of this book.
As you can see the cover designer has implemented minimalistic approach. A traditional Diwan or gallery where a sitting arrangement is found. In the background you see a picture showing different creatures. Of course, it means a lot when you read the book. Not much appealing to onlookers. The paperback edition has a bluish color theme implemented on the cover page where you can see a lady standing in room (near a table), where one door is open and she is looking at the another closed door.
A moderate cover page that could be re-designed for a lot more visual appeal.
The book is written almost like a diary plotting a map of wandering musings of a middle-aged woman, living a solitary existence in a city which is never named, but resembles Rome. She takes us along to these places as she wonders about the inhabitants of her life, her friends, a married man who she thinks may want more from her, lovers and exes, vendors who sell her sandwiches and coffee, cheese and fruit, books and stationery.
Almost ritualistic in nature, her routines take us to her work, her fixed meals at favourite restaurants where she orders a different item every day. There is occasional dinner to attend, or a baptism, or an outing with friends or in their absence. There are regular visits to her ageing mother and advanced bookings for the theatre performances that she makes in advance for the whole season.
And every place is made alive as she gives us her impressions including conjectures on the lives of people that live in it, whether it is the beauty salon filled with foreign women or the lone stranger in the museum. And we also see how she is trying to hang on to the life as she has come to know it and how, finally, she takes on a journey to place she has never been.
Views and Reviews:
Every time my surroundings change I feel enormous sadness. It’s not greater when I leave a place tied to memories, grief or happiness. It’s the change itself, that unsettles me…
I enjoyed this journey through our narrator’s live through 46 chapters – each named like a key to a door – At Dawn, In the House, By the Sea or simply ‘In my Head’. Each chapter is almost like a stand-alone entry, enlisting one experience and spinning threads of the past and present, so that with each chapter we learn a little more of the woman.
She lives a solitary life, with no immediate family or intimate friends. The only concession we are given is her profession. Rest of her life is built of the impressions she gives us of her experiences. We do not know what city she lives in or what language she speaks – except for occasional piazzas to indicate Rome. She is a master of her own life and so slightly disdainful of those who share their lives with families. She is judgmental, occasionally petty, resentful, still holding onto the childhood that speaks of a chasm between her mother and her impassive father, that has probably influenced her choices towards life of solitude.
And yet there is compassion and understanding for other travellers who may be weary:
She studies her swollen feet, her shoes, and thinks about all the streets she’s walked in the past few days, in a vast city, alone, disoriented all the while.
A tenacious desire to cling on to life:
There’s no escaping the unseen. We live day by day.
And the joy of being alive and part of a sea of humanity in spite of their urban aloofness:
Today, I don’t feel alone. I hear the babble of people as they chatter, on and on. I’m amazed at our impulse to express ourselves, explain ourselves, tell stories to one another.
She has friends who are more wealthy, successful and worldly. And although she sometimes accepts their gifts gracefully, our narrator enjoys her small independence most of the time, as she remembers to buy that which appeals her:
The idea of spending money, of buying myself something lovely but unnecessary, has always burdened me.
These new acquisitions entertain me, they keep me company.
The narrator is also an example of how afraid we are as we grow older to make choices. Because we were hurt in childhood by rejection from people we were bound to by affection and love. And as we grow older that affection turns into projected demands:
Look, I am full of glitches, defects, hazards that might at any moment plunge me into a state of dramatic decline, that snatch me away definitively.
This book is certainly a new voice from an author who has previously given us moving characters and strong narratives depicting lives of people struggling with their identities and finding their place in the world between their roots and their futures. This book is no longer a study in particulars, but more of a shining light on all of us drifting across the urban landscapes, wrapped up in our own bubble of solitude. And as delicious a luxury as it is, it can also become a cage:
Solitude demands a precise assessment of time. Its like the money in your wallet: you have to know how much time you need to kill, how much to spend before dinner, what’s left over before going to bed.
In summary, this is a moving kaleidoscope of a solitary life lived in today’s urban oasis and the enchanting allure of travelling to explore the unknown..
I would give it around 7.5 to 8 stars out of 10.
Quick Purchase Links:
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- Buy - Whereabouts: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri - Paperback - Amazon US
- Buy - Whereabouts: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri - Audiobook - Amazon US
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