Jhumpa Lahiri: On "The Lowland" and Her Next Adventure

The Coolidge Corner Theater was tucked away in a narrow alley off of Harvard St –the perfect place for a book reading and discussion. A long line of students, book club leaders, professors, and avid readers curled around the white brick building covered with vines and into the parking lot behind it. Many had their heads buried in Jhumpa Lahiri’s newest novel, The Lowland, which was released in stores on September 24th, 2013.

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Five minutes after the expected start time of 5:30 PM, Jhumpa Lahiri walked into the room, conversing with a young woman in a black dress and an older man named William (Bill) Corbett who would be leading the discussion. She walked onto the stage in front of the red curtains adorned with gold rope and slung her brown cross-body purse on the shoulder of the green director’s chair that had been patiently waiting for her arrival. Not a single hint of nervousness or apprehension was evident in her demeanor. Of course, as a Pulitzer Prize winner and Hemingway Award recipient, she was only living another day of her life as a renowned author.

A young lady in black walked behind a podium that had been hiding on the side of the stage and recited a short introduction. “Please help me in welcoming Jhumpa Lahiri,” she concluded.

Jhumpa smiled at the audience and began. Her voice matched her composed air. She read aloud the first few paragraphs of Part II of her new book as calmly as a soft-spoken yoga instructor. Meanwhile, Bill persistently nodded his head with his eyes closed, as if he was deep in thought about what Jhumpa was reading. His intent listening would have been plausible had he asked profound relevant questions afterwards, but instead he steered the discussion towards Jhumpa’s fascination with the Italian Language.

Jhumpa now resides in Rome, Italy. “I haven’t read anything English in a year,” she admitted.  She is in the process of completely immersing herself in the Italian language and describes it as an “ intoxicating feeling of having a whole new world” in front of her. With passion, she introduced this idea of having the same feeling she had experienced when she originally first started writing. It was as if she was starting a new chapter in her life with excitement at all of the potential and possibility.

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Finally, Bill pulled out an old interview from The New York Times to begin the anticipated discussion of Jhumpa’s cultural identity. Jhumpa acknowledged the fact that she struggled to identify herself as an American, Indian, or any ethnic label. She was conflicted, as she grew up in the states with parents who did not approve of the notion of her being anything but Indian. She first felt a sense of belonging when she started writing. “I felt a kinship with those in [my] class” she said. It was as if she had been “reborn as a person."

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Once again, Bill connected this idea of being reborn to her new phase of life in Rome. Perhaps she will find a new voice or mode of writing. Will writing in Italian be the next phase in her life? “There’s nothing rational about learning Italian,” she said. “But what you need, what you want to do, you should do...” she closed.

Images via Facebook & Aya Tsuruta.

Portland native with roots in Jersey. Lover of almonds, music and coffee shops. Desperately wants Stars Hallow to be a real place.

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