Top critical review
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on January 1, 2015
This book is about experiences of Bengali immigrants in the United States who are part of a wealthy, educated milieu. It is an area that is very ripe for exploration and I don't have any problem with the fact that all of the stories focus on this particular group. Unfortunately I don't feel that Lahiri has done justice to her characters.
The first problem I have with this book is the writing. So many reviewers have commented on how "beautiful" it is but for me it was frustrating. Despite the abundance of detail the author uses very few descriptive words or literary techniques. I longed for it to take off and capture my imagination but it never did. It is spare to the point of being bland and mind-numbing. The other issue I had was the very liberal use of exposition which slowed the stories down immensely. The stories don't have much of an arc to them and I found myself wondering what the point was on many occasions.
Nearly all of the characters appear to be suffering from low-level depression and there is a repressed tone to the stories which seems to be deliberate. The major theme running through the book is the generation gap between parents and their children who were raised in America. Again, a very worthy subject for exploration, but the lack of genuine affection between these characters did not help me to care about them and their dilemmas. Most of the characters are extremely self-absorbed and display no generosity of spirit, humour or insight and, more gallingly, no recognition of their extremely privileged positions in both Indian and American societies. They remain wrapped up in their own problems, oblivious to anything beyond their insular little worlds.
Lahiri does try to introduce a wider perspective in the last story through Kaushik's career as a photographer but this sudden concern with bigger issues didn't ring true for me. In fact, I found it a bit offensive when Kaushik compared his own family's situation with the people he saw in refugee camps who had been forced to flee with just a few possessions. I realised how much I'd come to dislike this book by the end when I was supposed to be swept away (no pun intended) by the doomed love affair between Kaushik and Hema, but all I felt was relief that I'd finally reached the end of the book