I'm in full-out zen mode at the moment. So zen that I'm not actually doing what I'm supposed to be doing. Instead, my attention keeps wandering outside, where snow is falling in the mountains (Fernie, B.C.) and everything in the world seems peaceful and lovely, and it smells nice, and it is quiet.

It's kind of a wonderful world today. And I have coffee.

So, before I get on to what I'm supposed to be doing, a quick share: Read Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth.

Lahiri writes simply, efficiently and sadly. Her stories would be tales of love if they weren't actually examinations of loss and even, to some degree, emptiness. What looks like a happy ending is always overshadowed by something that's missing, something that's out of reach. In some instances (the last three short stories in this collection), what's missing smacks the reader in the face in a way that's painfully startling even as you see it hurtling toward you. Meanwhile, her prose is overlaid with a sense of place and perhaps home (if we can accept that "home" doesn't quite exist), and certainly with food. Food -- traditional Indian or Americanized -- is weaved in to a degree that I think it stands as testament to a constantly changing sense of diaspora. Lahiri's stories could easily lend to historical study in the future, because they illustrate where a community has come from and where it's going.

Yes, I'm a nerd.

Quick question for you, though -- Lahiri's latest collection of short stories opens with a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne:

"Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."

Now, I read this as, to put it way too simply, so true. But indeed, as it's been pointed out to me, the comment does carry a certain imperialist tone -- perhaps not surprising coming from the dude who wrote The Scarlet Letter.
Ok, back to what I'm supposed to be doing....

1 comment:

erin said...

I think it is only imperialist, or even a commentary on diaspora if you interpret it fairly literally. My first sense was that Hawthorne was speaking about humans as individuals, not as a society. What I mean is, without new surroundings, new environments, new challenges, new hardships, what was initially a wholesome and healthy existence becomes stale, flat, dull, even harmful. Perhaps what he means is what truly makes us human (or potato) is our ability to adapt, and strive to meet challenges and overcome obstacles... or maybe I should go back to reading about babies?