Sunday, April 14, 2013

Good and Cheap (Books)! Day 13

The Pulitzer Prizes are announced tomorrow, crowning a new book (or not, should they repeat last year's crazy insulting ridiculous interesting decision not to give a prize for fiction). Want to place bets on a winner? I think an odds favorite could be Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, but I also relish the dark horse winners that spring from nowhere. No doubt a Pulitzer Prize makes a career. Unless you're already dead, John Kennedy Toole, you overrated hack. (Please send your outraged "I loved Confederacy of Dunces" messages to Gianna. She loves the attention.)

Today I'd like to call out the youngest person (thus far) to win a Pulitzer Prize, Jhumpa Lahiri. It's hard to believe that she won 13 years ago for The Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories about the lives of Indians moving to America. She followed up Interpreter with a novel, The Namesake, and she has a new novel coming this fall, The Lowland. It's really good.

The book I like best, though, is another story collection, Unaccustomed Earth. These aren't just stories dealing with the cultural differences between India and the United States. Lahiri also writes about the gulf between generations, of children and parents trying to communicate from vastly different locations and eras. In the title story, an adult daughter, Ruma, has moved from Brooklyn to Seattle, and she's stressed out about the presumed obligation that she bring her elderly father to live in her home, as is customary in India. The final three stories in the collection follow two people, a boy and a girl, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood in Italy, to the horror of the tsunami.

What Lahiri does best is capture the subtleties of relationships and emotions. Her characters feel like real people living real lives and facing real difficulties and experiencing real joys, and yet she manages to pull off these portraits in just a few pages. I will read everything Jhumpa Lahiri writes.

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