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[LITERATURE] Jhumpa Lahiri - Acclaim Novelist

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  • madchinaman
    Jhumpa Lahiri From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jhumpa_Lahiri - OVERVIEW Education: Bachelor s degree in English literature,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 8, 2007
      Jhumpa Lahiri
      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


      Education: Bachelor's degree in English literature, Barnard College;
      masters' degrees in English, creative writing, and comparative
      studies in literature and the arts; doctorate in renaissance studies,
      all from Boston University. "An absurd number of degrees," she says,
      but all the diplomas are framed and displayed on her parents' walls.

      Mentor: Novelist and Boston University professor Leslie Epstein, who
      advised her to "never forget you're a fiction writer" when she was
      too shy and lacked the confidence to call herself a writer. Such
      comments, she says, were "like a lifeboat in a cold, unfriendly

      Awards: Pulitzer Prize, PEN/Hemingway Award, The New Yorker Debut of
      the Year; Guggenheim Fellowship.

      First job after college: As a bookstore clerk in Cambridge, Mass.,
      much to her parents' disappointment. "I said, 'I need a break. I'm
      burnt out at 21.' They said, 'You have no clue.' To them, opportunity
      is sacred, not to be wasted."


      Jhumpa Lahiri Vourvoulias (born Nilanjana Sudeshna in 1967) is a
      contemporary Indian American (Bengali) author based in New York City.

      Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London, England in July 1967, and brought
      up in South Kingstown, Rhode Island where she would go on to graduate
      from South Kingstown High School. Her parents, a teacher and a
      librarian, taught her about her Bengali heritage from an early age.
      Lahiri received her B.A. in English literature from Barnard College
      in 1989. She then received multiple degrees from Boston University:
      an M.A. in English, an M.A. in Creative Writing, an M.A. in
      Comparative Literature and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. She took
      up a fellowship at Provincetown's Fine Arts Work Center, which lasted
      for the next two years (1997-1998).

      In 2001, she married Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a journalist who was
      then Deputy Editor of Time Latin America. Lahiri currently lives in
      Brooklyn with her husband and two children. She has been a Vice
      President of the PEN American Center since 2005.

      Lahiri taught creative writing at Boston University and Rhode Island
      School of Design. Much of her short fiction concerns the lives of
      Indian-Americans, particularly Bengalis.

      Interpreter of Maladies
      As a collection of nine distinct short stories, Interpreter of
      Maladies, Lahiri's debut, addresses sensitive dilemmas in the lives
      of Indians or Indian immigrants. The stories' themes include marital
      difficulties, miscarriages, and the disconnection between first and
      second generation immigrants in the United States. The stories are
      set in the northeastern United States, and in India, particularly

      The Namesake
      The Namesake, her second book and first novel, was published in 2003.
      An anecdote published in USA Today mentions a schoolteacher who found
      her given name too long and used her nickname Jhumpa instead.[1]
      Lahiri adapted this incident in her book, which spans more than
      thirty years in the life of a fictional family, the Gangulis. The
      parents, each born in Calcutta, emigrated to the United States as
      young adults. Their children, Gogol and Sonali, grow up in the United
      States and much of the tension of the novel is dependent upon the
      generation and cultural gap between the parents and the children.

      Furthermore, as the title suggests, one of the issues of the novel is
      the confusion caused by the a misunderstanding which occurred when
      Gogol is very young: his pet name (Gogol) becomes mistaken for his
      real name. Thus, Gogol's unusual name serves as a symbol of his own
      unclear cultural identity (further complicated by the fact that Gogol
      is the last name of a noted Russian author).

      [edit] Film
      The film, The Namesake will be released in March 2007 in the United
      States and the United Kingdom. It is directed by Mira Nair and a
      screenplay adapted from Lahiri's novel by Sooni Taraporevala. The
      film stars Kal Penn as the young Gogol. Lahiri, herself is an extra
      in the film.

      1993 - TransAtlantic Award from the Henfield Foundation
      1999 - O. Henry Award for short story "Interpreter of Maladies"
      1999 - PEN/Hemingway Award (Best Fiction Debut of the Year)
      for "Interpreter of Maladies"
      2000 - Addison Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and
      2000 - The New Yorker's Best Debut of the Year for "Interpreter of
      short story "Interpreter of Maladies" selected as one of Best
      American Short Stories
      2000 - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut Interpreter of
      2000 - M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award from the James Beard
      2002 - Guggenheim Fellowship


      Author/Illustrator Bio:

      Jhumpa Lahiri was born 1967 in London, England, and raised in Rhode
      Island. She is a graduate of Barnard College, where she received a
      B.A. in English literature, and of Boston University, where she
      received an M.A. in English, M.A. in Creative Writing and M.A. in
      Comparative Studies in Literature and the Arts, and a Ph.D. in
      Renaissance Studies. She has taught creative writing at Boston
      University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Her debut
      collection, Interpreter of Maladies, won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for
      fiction. It was translated into twenty-nine languages and became a
      bestseller both in the United States and abroad. In addition to the
      Pulitzer, it received the PEN/Hemingway Award, the New Yorker Debut
      of the Year award, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Addison
      Metcalf Award, and a nomination for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
      Lahiri was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002. The Namesake is
      Jhumpa Lahiri's first novel. She lives in New York with her husband
      and son.


      Interview with Jhumpa Lahiri
      interviewed by Arun Aguiar
      Arun Aguiar writes a weekly Arts & Culture Column for News India-
      Times, a Manhattan-based English language newspaper serving the 1
      million-strong Asian Indian community in the USA. Another way he
      doesn't make a living is by advising struggling non-profits on
      programming issues and generating earned revenues as an alternative
      to grant writing and other forms of supplication.

      Jhumpa Lahiri, 32, was born to Bengali Indian parents in London,
      moved to Rhode Island before she could say her first haw haw, often
      vacationed in Calcutta during her youth, and now lives on the border
      of Greenwich Village. After graduating from Barnard, she attended
      Boston University's creative writing program and obtained a Ph.D. in
      Renaissance Studies. A two-year fellowship at Provincetown's Fine
      Arts Work Center followed.

      The muse of writing first visited Lahiri in primary school and, at
      the ripe old age of seven, she began co-authoring "books" with a
      classroom friend during recess. Interpreter of Maladies, her first
      collection of 9 short stories, was published in June.

      The longest story covers 28 paperback pages, and the shortest, 13.
      Three were published in The New Yorker in the last year. The title
      story secured the author the O'Henry Award.

      While Lahiri's stories bear the stamp of the same painstaking
      craftsmanship as Buddhist sages apply to the making of a mandala,
      their lives are far from fleeting. Most of Interpreter's characters
      play out a simultaneous existence in two cultures. They are Indians
      living in America or India, and/ or their lovers, neighbors, or
      landlords are. With informed cultural chiseling, their creator shapes
      them into sharply sculpted personalities.

      The stories with an American setting presage a changing national cast
      of real and fictional characters. For instance, Mrs. Sen, the
      protagonist of her eponymous story, is hardly a fish out of water for
      feeling diminished without a daily regime of fresh halibut: at least
      50,000 other immigrants from Bengal share her piscine tastes.

      As for the stories set abroad, Lahiri ensures, with exquisite
      attention to exotic detail, that all of the cultural i's are topped
      by vermilion dots and their Indian t's refreshingly crossed.

      Arun Aguiar interviewed Jhumpa Lahiri on July 28, 1999 for Pif
      Magazine. He reports, "Searching for convenient ground led us to walk
      away from the conversation-filled Xando Café and Java & Jazz coffee
      shop in favor of an air-conditioned office kindly made available by
      Ann Benner of Mariner Books/ Houghton Mifflin near Union Square in
      Manhattan. Wearing a bare-armed black blouse, offset by brown glasses
      perched on her head and bracelets the color of bronze, Lahiri fielded
      questions with 'If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium' insouciance."


      Arun Aguiar: If I may, I'm going to start this discussion by taking
      up one of the 9 stories. To set this up, will you please summarize
      the story titled "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar"?

      Jhumpa Lahiri: It's about a misfit, a young woman, living in a
      rundown building in Calcutta, and she's in the care of her cousin and
      his wife, who run a shop. She's epileptic, and she lives a very
      sheltered life; so she's rather naïve. The story is basically about
      the town's involvement, to a greater and lesser degree, with her over
      her marriage and in the idea of finding her a husband.

      AA: She is a rare and unusual character, and one most people would
      not easily encounter. How on earth did you get to know the Bibi
      Haldar's of India so well?

      JL: From going to India, and observing people. For that story, I took
      as my subject a young woman whom I got to know over the course of a
      couple of visits. I never saw her having any health problems – but I
      knew she wanted to be married. She lived in the same building as my
      aunt and uncle, and we struck up a friendship, not terribly deep and
      abiding, but a friendship, nevertheless. I learned from my aunt that
      she had some epileptic-like disease...

      AA: Yet, you described with verisimilitude Bibi having a seizure on
      the street, and the crowd doesn't know what to do until someone
      cries "Leather!" Is someone else the real narrator of your Indian
      stories, and you the writer?

      JL: No. I had a brief conversation with my aunt about the last time
      this woman had a spell, during which she said, "If you hold up
      something close to her that's made of leather, it helps her." It sort
      of stuck in my head. She didn't really describe anything to me, she's
      not a storyteller in that sense.

      AA: Now, what if the narrator had witnessed the story unfolding as,
      for instance, a teenager rather than an older woman and mother? Would
      the focus have shifted from the sick woman to, perhaps, the impact on
      the narrator herself?

      JL: Maybe, maybe not. The narrator is not anybody in particular. It's
      a group of women, so there's no particular identity to the narrative
      voice. A Faulkner story ["A Rose For Emily"] I admired used that
      voice and I wanted to try it out. That's why I wrote the story the
      way I did. It was an experiment for myself.

      AA: How necessary or useful is it to visit a foreign locale before
      setting a story in it? In the `60s, a British writer of detective
      fiction novelist spawned a slew of stories featuring one Bombay
      Police Inspector Ghote, but he revealed, some years later, that he
      had never been to Bombay.

      JL: I have also written stories set in places and/ or times of which
      I had no idea, and had no access to, and I've had to rely on a little
      bit of research, and questions, and get some details that way. It's
      easy to set a story anywhere if you get a good guidebook and get some
      basic street names, and some descriptions, but, for me, yes, I am
      indebted to my travels to India for several of the stories.

      AA: The timeless Indian Tales of the Panchatantra, like Aesop's
      Fables, often end with a moral. Your stories primarily dwell on

      JL: Relationships do not preclude issues of morality … When I sit
      down to write, I don't think about writing about an idea or a given
      message. I just try to write a story (which is hard enough). And
      there's obviously a message, or a moral, or something (smiles). I
      think that's good -- but it's not something I actively think about,
      to be honest with you.

      AA: You've read from Interpreter to Indians, to Asian American
      groups, and to general audiences in bookstores. Have their reactions

      JL: The reactions haven't differed; the concerns have been different.
      When I read for a predominantly Indian audience, there are more
      questions that are based on issues of identity and representation.
      That also happened in England last week. Some Indians will come up
      and say that a story reminded them of something very specific to
      their experience. Which may or may not be the case for non-Indians.
      But I've also been receiving incredibly touching letters from people
      who are not Indian, not women, but (I'm assuming) older American men
      commenting on the story [The Third and Final Continent] in The New
      Yorker's recent fiction issue about a young man's odyssey in the
      United States, and connecting to it in a way that I find quite

      AA: Did you ever look at a zine like Pifmagazine.com for an audience?

      JL: I've never had Internet access (sighs). Actually, I have looked
      at things on other people's computers as a bystander. A few times in
      my life I've opened email accounts, twice actually … but it's
      something I don't want in my life right now.

      AA: Does that say anything about you in terms of being traditional
      versus modern?

      JL: No (chuckles). The whole Internet world seems like a distraction
      for me. Especially since it would be on my computer, which is where I
      write. I like to think of the computer, psychologically, more as an
      empty space rather than as "I can push a button and the world could
      appear" …

      AA: You have been contracted to write a novel. Can you give us a hint
      of the essence of the book?

      JL: It's hard for me to talk about anything I'm doing at the moment.
      It's only after I finish something that I can actually describe it in

      AA: Some short stories become novels.

      JL: I've seen novels that have grown out of one story in a
      collection. But it hasn't occurred to me to take any of those stories
      and build on them. They seem very finished for me, so I don't feel
      like going back and dredging them up.

      AA: Would you advise a beginning short story writer to send his or
      her first submission to The New Yorker or to less known publications
      or simultaneously to all?

      JL: I would not send a first story anywhere. I would give myself time
      to write a number of stories.

      I started writing, and then I bought a book on where to send stories.
      I would send them out, they all came back, then I would write
      something else, this went on for years. Sometimes I got a nice note,
      and that gives you a little bit of inspiration for the next time you
      sit down to write. It's a combination of being attuned to that whole
      world out there, the editor, the publisher, blah, blah, blah, but
      also knowing that really is not the goal. If it happens, it happens;
      if it doesn't happen for a long time, that's okay too.

      AA: Finally, is that a rhinestone ring you're wearing? Because
      there's this Neil Diamond song, "Rhinestone Cowboy", which goes: " …
      Getting cards and letters from people I don't even know; and offers
      comin' over the phone … ." With your book taking off, are you feeling
      like a rhinestone cowboy?

      JL: Ha, ha, ha! I just feel tired, I have to say. It's been a very
      hectic summer.


      For Pulitzer winner Lahiri, a novel approach
      By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY

      BROOKLYN, N.Y. — When Jhumpa Lahiri, the daughter of immigrants from
      India by way of England, began kindergarten in Kingston, R.I., her
      parents told her teacher that her first name was merely a pet name.

      In Bengali culture, pet names are used by family and friends only at
      home and in private moments. Each pet name is paired with a good
      name, a formal identification for the outside world.

      Lahiri had two good names: Nilanjana Sudeshna. They appear on her
      passport and birth certificate, and that's how her parents expected
      her to be known in school.

      But the teacher, as Lahiri's parents later told her, wasn't much for
      formality. She said something like "That's kind of a long name" and
      decided it was easier to pronounce "Jhumpa."

      Thirty years later, Lahiri adapts the scene in her novel, The
      Namesake, (Houghton Mifflin, $24), to be published next month. The
      novel is one of the most eagerly awaited of the fall.

      The Namesake is not only Lahiri's debut, but it's also her first book
      since she won the Pulitzer Prize three years ago for Interpreter of
      Maladies, her debut collection of short stories. That was only the
      seventh time a collection of stories had won the prestigious award.
      After a first printing of 17,500 copies, it went on to sell 600,000
      copies, most of them in paperback.

      Set between 1968 and 2000, The Namesake continues and expands on a
      theme running through her short stories: the emotional dislocation of
      immigrants and their children who are struggling to reconcile family
      traditions with a new and baffling culture.

      The story is about a boy named Gogol Ganguli, the son of immigrants,
      whose pet name comes from the Russian writer. His good name is
      Nikhil, and he struggles with what to call himself.

      Lahiri calls herself an outsider but not a foreigner. Her family left
      England when she was 3. "I wasn't born here," she says, "but I might
      as well have been."

      In the novel, Gogol's mother, Ashima, never forgets she's a foreigner
      in a strange new world filled with opportunities and uncertainties.

      For Ashima, being a foreigner is "a sort of lifelong pregnancy,"
      Lahiri writes, "a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous
      feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis
      in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that
      previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated
      and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is
      something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same
      combination of pity and respect."

      In her spacious, airy apartment in a gentrified, stroller-filled
      neighborhood of Brooklyn, Lahiri balances her 15-month-old son,
      Octavio, on her lap. She recalls that as she was writing the
      childbirth scene, before her son was born, she asked her mother what
      it had been like when Lahiri and her younger sister were born.

      "She talked about the pain, which I expected, but also about feeling
      terrified that she was all alone in a new country where she didn't
      know anyone."

      In her novel, Lahiri writes of Ashima's pregnancy: "That it was
      happening so far from home, unmonitored and unobserved by those she
      loved, had made it more miraculous still. But she is terrified to
      raise a child in a country where she is related to no one, where she
      knows so little, where life seems tentative and spare."

      Much of her fiction, Lahiri says, comes from listening to others,
      then putting herself "in their shoes to try to imagine that feeling
      for myself." She imagined herself being pregnant in Japan or Brazil
      and "what that would feel like."

      At 35, Lahiri is as unassuming, direct and precise as her writing.
      She is asked whether outsiders make better novelists.

      "Not necessarily," she says. "Many of the novelists I admire never
      left their hometown. Look at Flannery O'Connor. So many of the great
      Russians never left Russia. Shakespeare never left England. The list
      goes on."

      Lahiri grew up in a college town, where her father was a librarian at
      the University of Rhode Island, but the family frequently visited
      relatives in Calcutta.

      There, when she was about 20, she heard about a cousin's friend named

      "The name struck me. I knew that in India it wasn't strange, just a
      playful pet name in honor of the writer. No one would think it odd
      the way they would here."

      Nearly a decade later, Lahiri was compiling a list of ideas that
      could spring into stories. A boy named Gogol was added. "The only
      thing I was sure of was his name, which is the one thing he's not
      sure of."

      In the early drafts, Gogol was born and raised in Calcutta and
      was "more like my parents." Then Lahiri decided she would make his
      background closer to her own. So Gogol is born and raised in the
      suburbs of Boston.

      As Lahiri writes, "His parents don't suspect Gogol of being, in his
      own fumbling way, an American teenager." As a teen, Lahiri's favorite
      sitcom was Bewitched, with Elizabeth Montgomery as a suburban mother
      who happened to be a witch. "On some level," she says, "the idea of
      parents who were different must have appealed to me."

      Lahiri's short-story collection won better reviews in the USA than in
      India, where critics panned what they believed were her negative
      portrayal of immigrants and questioned whether she was a "true
      Indian" who could write about India.

      "That pushed all my buttons," she says. "It's what I've struggled
      with: In India, I'm told, 'You look Indian, you speak Bengali, but
      you're really American.' In America, I'm told, 'You sound and act
      American, but you're really Indian.' "

      She says she feels fully comfortable in neither place, but that's
      changing. "More and more I feel comfortable in this country. I can
      belong here. I do belong here. I belong less in India."

      She's married to a Guatemalan-American and coos to her son in
      Bengali, "the language of my heart, the language I was raised and
      loved with." She would love it if her son grew up speaking English,
      Spanish and Bengali, but "I won't pressure him to be trilingual at
      the age of 5."

      As for her Pulitzer Prize, Lahiri says, "It was unexpected. I accept
      it graciously and try to wear it lightly. I know it's a high honor,
      but I also know it's arbitrary, a decision made by a small group of
      people. ... It's no magic potion. It doesn't help me with what's
      really important to me: to learn and grow as a writer."

      She recognizes that the prize has raised expectations for The
      Namesake (first printing: 150,000 copies), "but that's nothing I can

      Writing, she says, "is the hardest thing I do. But it's a struggle I
      enjoy on some level. I have very little choice. If I don't write, I
      feel dreadful. So I write."


      Jhumpa Lahiri on her Debut Novel
      An Interview with the author

      Q) In your first book, Interpreter of Maladies, some of the stories
      are set in India, others in the United States. The Namesake is set
      predominantly in the United States. Can you talk a bit about the
      significance of setting in your work?

      A) When I began writing fiction seriously, my first attempts were,
      for some reason, always set in Calcutta, which is a city I know quite
      well as a result of repeated visits with my family, sometimes for
      several months at a time. These trips, to a vast, unruly, fascinating
      city so different from the small New England town where I was raised,
      shaped my perceptions of the world and of people from a very early
      age. I went to Calcutta neither as a tourist nor as a former
      resident - a valuable position, I think, for a writer. The reason my
      first stories were set in Calcutta is due partly to that perspective -
      that necessary combination of distance and intimacy with a place.
      Eventually I started to set my stories in America, and as a result
      the majority of stories in Interpreter of Maladies have an American
      setting. Still, though I've never lived anywhere but America, India
      continues to form part of my fictional landscape. As most of my
      characters have an Indian background, India keeps cropping up as a
      setting, sometimes literally, sometimes more figuratively, in the
      memory of the characters. The Namesake is, essentially, a story about
      life in the United States, so the American setting was always a
      given. The terrain is very much the terrain of my own life - New
      England and New York, with Calcutta always hovering in the
      background. Now that the writing is done I've realized that America
      is a real presence in the book; the characters must struggle and come
      to terms with what it means to live here, to be brought up here, to
      belong and not belong here.

      Q) The Namesake deals with Indian immigrants in the United States as
      well as their children. What, in your opinion, distinguishes the
      experiences of the former from the latter?

      A) In a sense, very little. The question of identity is always a
      difficult one, but especially so for those who are culturally
      displaced, as immigrants are, or those who grow up in two worlds
      simultaneously, as is the case for their children. The older I get,
      the more I am aware that I have somehow inherited a sense of exile
      from my parents, even though in many ways I am so much more American
      than they are. In fact, it is still very hard to think of myself as
      an American. (This is of course complicated by the fact that I was
      born in London.) I think that for immigrants, the challenges of
      exile, the loneliness, the constant sense of alienation, the
      knowledge of and longing for a lost world, are more explicit and
      distressing than for their children. On the other hand, the problem
      for the children of immigrants - those with strong ties to their
      country of origin - is that they feel neither one thing nor the
      other. This has been my experience, in any case. For example, I never
      know how to answer the question "Where are you from?" If I say I'm
      from Rhode Island, people are seldom satisfied. They want to know
      more, based on things such as my name, my appearance, etc.
      Alternatively, if I say I'm from India, a place where I was not born
      and have never lived, this is also inaccurate. It bothers me less
      now. But it bothered me growing up, the feeling that there was no
      single place to which I fully belonged.

      Q) Can you talk a little bit more specifically about the conflicts
      you felt growing up as the child of immigrants?

      A) It was always a question of allegiance, of choice. I wanted to
      please my parents and meet their expectations. I also wanted to meet
      the expectations of my American peers, and the expectations I put on
      myself to fit into American society. It's a classic case of divided
      identity, but depending on the degree to which the immigrants in
      question are willing to assimilate, the conflict is more or less
      pronounced. My parents were fearful and suspicious of America and
      American culture when I was growing up. Maintaining ties to India,
      and preserving Indian traditions in America, meant a lot to them.
      They're more at home now, but it's always an issue, and they will
      always feel like, and be treated as, foreigners here. Now that I'm an
      adult I understand and sympathize more with my parents' predicament.
      But when I was a child it was harder for me to understand their
      views. At times I felt that their expectations for me were in direct
      opposition to the reality of the world we lived in. Things like
      dating, living on one's own, having close friendships with Americans,
      listening to American music and eating American food - all of it was
      a mystery to them. On the other hand, when I was growing up, India
      was largely a mystery to Americans as well, not nearly as present in
      the fabric of American culture as it is today. It wasn't until I was
      in college that my American friends expressed curiosity about and
      interest in my Indian background. As a young child, I felt that that
      the Indian part of me was unacknowledged, and therefore somehow
      negated, by my American environment, and vice versa. I felt that I
      led two very separate lives.

      Q) Did you feel as rebellious as your character Gogol does early in
      your novel?

      A) Neither Gogol nor I was terribly rebellious, really. I suppose I,
      like Gogol, had my moments. But even ordinary things felt like a
      rebellion from my upbringing - what I ate, what I listened to, whom I
      befriended, what I read. Things my American friends' parents wouldn't
      think to remark upon were always remarked upon by mine.

      Q) In The Namesake, characters have both good names, used in public,
      and pet names, used by families. Is this still a tradition in Bengali
      families? Do you have both a public and a family name?

      A) I can't speak for all Bengalis. But all the Bengalis I know
      personally, especially those living in India, have two names, one
      public, one private. It's always fascinated me. My parents are called
      by different names depending on what country they happen to be in; in
      India they're known by their pet names, but in America they're known
      by their good names. My sister, who was born and raised in America,
      has two names. I'm like Gogol in that my pet name inadvertently
      became my good name. I have two other names on my passport and my
      birth certificate (my mother couldn't settle on just one). But when I
      was enrolled in school the teachers decided that Jhumpa was the
      easiest of my names to pronounce and that was that. To this day many
      of my relatives think that it's both odd and inappropriate that I'm
      known as Jhumpa in an official, public context.

      Q) You write frequently from the male point of view. Why?

      A) In the beginning I think it was mainly curiosity. I have no
      brothers, and growing up, men generally seemed like mysterious
      creatures to me. Except for an early story I wrote in college, the
      first thing I wrote from the male point of view was the story "This
      Blessed House," in Interpreter of Maladies. It was an exhilarating
      and liberating thing to do, so much so that I wrote three stories in
      a row, all from the male perspective. It's a challenge, as well. I
      always have to ask myself, would a man think this? do this? I always
      knew that the protagonist of The Namesake would by a boy. The
      original spark of the book was the fact that a friend of my cousin's
      in India had the pet name Gogol. I wanted to write about the pet
      name / good name distinction for a long time, and I knew I needed the
      space of a novel to explore the idea. It's almost too perfect a
      metaphor for the experience of growing up as the child of immigrants,
      having a divided identity, divided loyalties, etc.

      Q) Now that you've written both stories and a novel, which do you
      prefer? What was the transition like?

      A) I feel attracted to both forms. Moving from the purity and
      intensity of the short story to the broader canvas of a novel felt
      liberating and, at times, overwhelming. Writing a novel is certainly
      more demanding than writing a story, and the stakes are higher. Every
      time I questioned something about the novel it potentially affected
      hundreds of pages of writing, not just ten or twenty. The revision
      process was far more rigorous and daunting. It was much more of a
      commitment in every way. And I was juggling much more than I ever
      have in a story, more characters, more scenes, more points of view.
      At the same time, there's something more forgiving about a novel.
      It's roomier, messier, more tolerant than a short story. The action
      isn't under a microscope in quite the same way. Short stories, now
      matter how complex, always have a ruthless, distilled quality. They
      require more control than novels. I hope I can continue to write both.

      Q) Have you reevaluated any of your writing about men and/or marriage
      now that you are both a wife and mother?

      A) Not really. The scenes about Ashima in labor and giving birth were
      written long before I became pregnant. I asked my friends and my
      mother and my mother's friends a lot of questions, and I based
      Ashima's experiences on the answers I got. Being married doesn't make
      writing about men any easier, just as my being a woman doesn't make
      writing about women any easier. It's always a challenge. That said,
      the experiences of marriage and motherhood have changed me
      profoundly, have grounded me in a way I've never been before.
      Motherhood, in particular, makes me look at life in an entirely
      different way. There's nothing to prepare you for it, nothing to
      compare it to. And I imagine that my future work will reflect or
      otherwise be informed by that change.

      Q) You quote Dostoyevsky as saying, "We all came out of Gogol's
      overcoat." Has Nikolai Gogol had any influence on you as a writer?

      A) I'm not sure influence is the right word. I don't turn to Gogol as
      consistently as I do to certain other writers when I'm struggling
      with character or language. His writing is more overtly comic, more
      antic and absurd than mine tends to be. But I admire his work
      enormously and reread a lot of it as I was working on the novel, in
      addition to reading biographical material. "The Overcoat" is such a
      superb story. It really does haunt me the way it haunts the character
      of Ashoke in the novel. I like to think that every writer I admire
      influences me in some way, by teaching me something about writing. Of
      course, without the inspiration of Nikolai Gogol, without his name
      and without his writing, my novel would never have been conceived. In
      that respect, this book came out of Gogol's overcoat, quite literally.


      The Writer Who Began With a Hyphen
      Jhumpa Lahiri, Between Two Cultures

      By Teresa Wiltz
      Washington Post Staff Writer

      NEW YORK -- For Jhumpa Lahiri, writer, observer and ABCD -- "another
      badly confused Deshi" -- there is that place, a place she watches
      with a certain detached bemusement, the place she arrived at in the
      midst of all that post-Pulitzer fuss. The place where there are
      glitzy spreads in Vogue and where paparazzi stake out her wedding, a
      place where she constantly hops on planes to a seemingly endless
      array of cities, where someone is always there at the ready, snapping

      And then there is this other place, a quieter place, the place where
      she is really most comfortable. Home.

      Toys are scattered about, a shirt lies forgotten on the bathroom
      floor, testimony to lives given over completely to the care and
      feeding of the very, very young. The teakettle is humming on the
      stove in the galley, where her husband, Alberto, a man lean of face
      and frame, is futzing about, making lunch for the baby. Throughout
      their Park Slope co-op in Brooklyn, there are talismans of love:
      photos of weddings and other gatherings, of friends and first
      birthdays, abstract art painted by her mother-in-law, shelves crammed
      tight with much-read tomes. She sits in the living room, snuggling
      with the big-eyed moppet on her lap, tired and more than a little jet-
      lagged, cooing in Bengali as ferocious masks from Guatemala and
      Mexico gaze down on them.

      This is but a momentary respite in the latest crush of publicity, a
      pit stop on the way from there to there, from last week's stint in
      Los Angeles, and this week's stop in Washington, where tonight Lahiri
      will appear at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 4900 Connecticut Ave. NW,
      at 7.

      There, she will do something that makes her squirm: Read her own
      work, specifically excerpts from her first novel, "The Namesake," the
      much-anticipated follow-up to "Interpreter of Maladies," her debut
      collection of short stories, the book that won her the Pulitzer Prize
      for fiction in 2000 and a whole lot of attention and praise that
      she's still not quite sure what to do with.

      Here in the United States, reviewers laid on the praise, as did one
      critic who enthused, "There is nothing accidental about her success;
      her plots are as elegantly constructed as a fine proof in

      In her parents' native India, where the book was also a bestseller,
      the commotion reached an accelerated pitch, with journalists
      alternately praising her work and then slamming her for not painting
      Indians in a more positive light. When she married her beau,
      Guatemalan Greek journalist Alberto Vourvoulias, the Times of India
      breathlessly covered their 2001 nuptials, a two-hour Hindu ceremony
      that took place in Calcutta: "Press photographers and TV crews were,
      however, kept at bay in deference to Jhumpa's wishes to keep the
      wedding a private affair. Desperate photographers and TV cameramen
      had positioned themselves on a neighboring building to capture the
      event on film. They even had dogs set on them."

      Life after the first big splash has been interesting.

      "The unexpected can really have the power to unsettle you," says
      Lahiri, a slender, soft-spoken woman with a caramel complexion, large
      limpid eyes and a flair for fashion.

      "Even if it's good."

      Indeed, winning the Pulitzer was discomfiting in that the 36-year-old
      has yet to figure out why. It came suddenly, a short hard blast of
      good fortune, shoving her into the literary spotlight and onto the
      bestseller lists, all thanks to a prize for which she wasn't even
      aware she was a contender.

      Did she deem herself unworthy?

      She hesitates before answering, parsing her remarks with the
      precision of a woman for whom words matter much.

      "I thought Pulitzers were given to authors who were ensconced in
      their work," she says. "I didn't understand how I could arrive at
      that, having written just nine stories. But I had to accept that, and
      accept it graciously.

      "I don't think it's wise for a writer to question why a book is
      praised or dismissed. It's just my job to write the books."

      So don't ask her if she considers herself a good writer, because she
      doesn't know how to answer that. It's not like she reads her work for
      pleasure, you know? She'd prefer to not read it at all, frankly.
      That's not what matters. Rather, writing is a puzzle, something to
      ponder and figure out, a way to toy with ideas and experiences. It's
      something that is never, ever easy, is always, always difficult, but
      she does it because that is what she most loves to do. Once it's out
      of her hands, though, her relationship to it is done. That's it. None
      of her business if her work is loved or loathed.

      "I've never written for anyone other than myself," she says. "No
      matter what people say or expect, at the end of the day, they're not
      the one in the room with me, writing."

      It is the process that entrances.

      "I've always never loved anything more than sitting quietly in a room
      by myself, imagining things," she says.

      Indeed, it grounded her. Even as a little girl, growing up in a
      university town in Rhode Island, the daughter of Bengali Indian
      immigrants, Lahiri entertained herself with the stories she wrote.
      Writing was play, something that carried on as she made her way
      through Barnard College and Boston University, where she received
      master's degrees in English, creative writing, and comparative
      studies in literature and the arts, and a doctorate in Renaissance

      Writing was also an escape. Growing up brown and "foreign" in a town
      where white was the predominant theme had its challenges. There was
      the persistent feeling of other, not American enough, not Indian
      enough, of constantly straddling fences, stretching identities. She
      is amused, and slightly annoyed, by Indians who immigrate to the
      United States and eagerly embrace a Caucasian identity, excitedly
      reporting to their Indian friends that they'd moved into an all-white
      neighborhood, where there were no blacks. Thanks to her parents --
      her mother would often retort to these friends, "What do you think
      you are?" -- she said, "I was never into any sort of denial."

      From "The Namesake":

      For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of
      lifelong pregnancy -- a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a
      continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a
      parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover
      that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more
      complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima
      believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from
      strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.

      She knew who she was: Indian American. London-born Deshi. And yet,
      the American part was hard to claim. "I really felt it would be a
      betrayal of my parents to call myself American," she says. But on
      visits to India, she was the American.

      It is the complications of being a hyphenated American that informs
      her work, the same challenges that face Gogol, the American-born
      protagonist in "The Namesake":

      "Teleologically speaking, ABCDs are unable to answer the
      question, 'Where are you from?' " the sociologist on the panel
      declares. Gogol has never heard the term ABCD. He eventually gathers
      that it stands for "American-born confused deshi." In other words,
      him. He learns that the C could also stand for "conflicted." He knows
      that deshi, a generic word for "countryman," means "Indian," knows
      that his parents and all their friends always refer to India simply
      as desh. But Gogol never thinks of India as desh. He thinks of it as
      Americans do, as India.

      "The Namesake" is told from several points of view: Those of Ashima,
      the Bengali bride who weds Ashoke in an arranged marriage and moves
      with him to Cambridge, Mass.; Ashoke, the MIT professor who years
      earlier escaped a disastrous train wreck and decides to christen his
      son after the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol in honor of his own
      survival; the British-born and American-raised Moushima, sleek and
      sophisticated, fluent in French and more than a little flattered when
      she is mistaken for anything other than Indian.

      Although these other voices compel, the story is ultimately a coming-
      of-age tale about Gogol, "the namesake," a confused and ambivalent
      young architect who spends much of his time running from all things
      Indian. First of all, he hates his name, a name that was meant to be
      a family name, a pet name, nothing more. But it sticks when his great-
      grandmother's letter, the airmail letter announcing his "good name,"
      is lost in the mail and U.S. bureaucrats demand that a name, any
      name, be put on his birth certificate.

      But Gogol doesn't understand its significance, and as soon as he
      graduates from high school, he changes his name to Nikhil.

      But now that he's Nikhil it's easier to ignore his parents, to tune
      out their concerns and pleas. . . . It is as Nikhil, that first
      semester, that he grows a goatee, starts smoking Camel Lights at
      parties and . . . discovers Brian Eno and Elvis Costello and Charlie
      Parker. . . . It is as Nikhil that he loses his virginity at a party
      at Ezra Stiles, with a girl wearing a plaid woolen skirt and combat
      boots and mustard tights.

      Naming is everything, a way to claim identity, to pass on notions of
      love, tradition and hope. And so it is, perhaps, that Lahiri
      dedicates her book to the two men in her life, her husband and
      son, "For Alberto and Octavio, whom I call by other names."

      For Octavio, she knows, life as a second-generation American-born
      Guatemalan Greek Deshi will be very different, a different kind of
      navigating between cultures, but navigating nonetheless.

      Witness lunchtime:

      Alberto comes to claim the 17-month-old Octavio, and the discourse
      between parent and child takes on a different hue.

      He holds out his hands to the toddler, issuing a command in Spanish:

      Let's go.

      And Octavio, who is just now learning to speak, in English and
      Bengali and, yes, Spanish, leaps into his father's arms.


      My Two Lives
      The Pulitzer-winning writer felt intense pressure to be at
      once 'loyal to the old world and fluent in the new.'

      March 6, 2006 issue - I have lived in the United States for almost 37
      years and anticipate growing old in this country. Therefore, with the
      exception of my first two years in London, "Indian-American" has been
      a constant way to describe me. Less constant is my relationship to
      the term. When I was growing up in Rhode Island in the 1970s I felt
      neither Indian nor American. Like many immigrant offspring I felt
      intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent
      in the new, approved of on either side of the hyphen. Looking back, I
      see that this was generally the case. But my perception as a young
      girl was that I fell short at both ends, shuttling between two
      dimensions that had nothing to do with one another.

      At home I followed the customs of my parents, speaking Bengali and
      eating rice and dal with my fingers. These ordinary facts seemed part
      of a secret, utterly alien way of life, and I took pains to hide them
      from my American friends. For my parents, home was not our house in
      Rhode Island but Calcutta, where they were raised. I was aware that
      the things they lived for—the Nazrul songs they listened to on the
      reel-to-reel, the family they missed, the clothes my mother wore that
      were not available in any store in any mall—were at once as precious
      and as worthless as an outmoded currency.

      I also entered a world my parents had little knowledge or control of:
      school, books, music, television, things that seeped in and became a
      fundamental aspect of who I am. I spoke English without an accent,
      comprehending the language in a way my parents still do not. And yet
      there was evidence that I was not entirely American. In addition to
      my distinguishing name and looks, I did not attend Sunday school, did
      not know how to ice-skate, and disappeared to India for months at a
      time. Many of these friends proudly called themselves Irish-American
      or Italian-American. But they were several generations removed from
      the frequently humiliating process of immigration, so that the ethnic
      roots they claimed had descended underground whereas mine were still
      tangled and green. According to my parents I was not American, nor
      would I ever be no matter how hard I tried. I felt doomed by their
      pronouncement, misunderstood and gradually defiant. In spite of the
      first lessons of arithmetic, one plus one did not equal two but zero,
      my conflicting selves always canceling each other out.

      When I first started writing I was not conscious that my subject was
      the Indian-American experience. What drew me to my craft was the
      desire to force the two worlds I occupied to mingle on the page as I
      was not brave enough, or mature enough, to allow in life. My first
      book was published in 1999, and around then, on the cusp of a new
      century, the term "Indian-American" has become part of this country's
      vocabulary. I've heard it so often that these days, if asked about my
      background, I use the term myself, pleasantly surprised that I do not
      have to explain further. What a difference from my early life, when
      there was no such way to describe me, when the most I could do was to
      clumsily and ineffectually explain.

      As I approach middle age, one plus one equals two, both in my work
      and in my daily existence. The traditions on either side of the
      hyphen dwell in me like siblings, still occasionally sparring, one
      outshining the other depending on the day. But like siblings they are
      intimately familiar with one another, forgiving and intertwined. When
      my husband and I were married five years ago in Calcutta we invited
      friends who had never been to India, and they came full of enthusiasm
      for a place I avoided talking about in my childhood, fearful of what
      people might say. Around non-Indian friends, I no longer feel
      compelled to hide the fact that I speak another language. I speak
      Bengali to my children, even though I lack the proficiency to teach
      them to read or write the language. As a child I sought perfection
      and so denied myself the claim to any identity. As an adult I accept
      that a bicultural upbringing is a rich but imperfect thing.

      While I am American by virtue of the fact that I was raised in this
      country, I am Indian thanks to the efforts of two individuals. I feel
      Indian not because of the time I've spent in India or because of my
      genetic composition but rather because of my parents' steadfast
      presence in my life. They live three hours from my home; I speak to
      them daily and see them about once a month. Everything will change
      once they die. They will take certain things with them—conversations
      in another tongue, and perceptions about the difficulties of being
      foreign. Without them, the back-and-forth life my family leads, both
      literally and figuratively, will at last approach stillness. An
      anchor will drop, and a line of connection will be severed.

      I have always believed that I lack the authority my parents bring to
      being Indian. But as long as they live they protect me from feeling
      like an impostor. Their passing will mark not only the loss of the
      people who created me but the loss of a singular way of life, a
      singular struggle. The immigrant's journey, no matter how ultimately
      rewarding, is founded on departure and deprivation, but it secures
      for the subsequent generation a sense of arrival and advantage. I can
      see a day coming when my American side, lacking the counterpoint
      India has until now maintained, begins to gain ascendancy and weight.
      It is in fiction that I will continue to interpret the term "Indian-
      American," calculating that shifting equation, whatever answers it
      may yield.


      Jhumpa Lahiri: A Brief Biography
      Jackie Large '05, and Erin Quinn '04, English 365, Northwestern

      In 1967, Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London to Bengali parents.As a
      child, Lahiri moved with her family to Rhode Island where Jhumpa
      spent her adolescence. Lahiri went on to attend Barnard College,
      graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English and later attending
      Boston University. It was here Lahiri attained Master's Degrees in
      English, Creative Writing, and Comparative Studies in Literature and
      the Arts as well as a Ph D in Renaissance Studies. Lahiri also worked
      for a short time teaching creative writing at Boston University and
      the Rhode Island School of Design (http://www.saja.org/lahiri.html)

      Lahiri has traveled extensively to India and has experienced the
      effects of colonialism there as well as experienced the issues of the
      diaspora as it exists. She feels strong ties to her parents' homeland
      as well as the United States and England. Growing up with ties to all
      three countries created in Lahiri a sense of homelessness and an
      inability to feel accepted. Lahiri explains this as an inheritance of
      her parents' ties to India, "It's hard to have parents who consider
      another place "home"-even after living abroad for 30 years, India is
      home for them. We were always looking back so I never felt fully at
      home here. There's nobody in this whole country that we're related
      to. India was different-our extended family offered real
      connections." Yet her familial ties to India were not enough to make
      India "home" for Lahiri, "I didn't grow up there, I wasn't a part of
      things. We visited often but we didn't have a home. We were clutching
      at a world that was never fully with us" (Interview with Vibhuti
      Patel in Newsweek International, 9-20-99).

      Lahiri, the daughter of a librarian and school teacher, has always
      been inclined to creative writing. Lahiri remembers a need to write
      as early as ten years old and she has always used writing as an
      outlet for her emotions, "When I learned to read, I felt the need to
      copy. I started writing ten page 'novels' during recess with my
      friends' writing allowed me to observe and make sense of things
      without having to participate. I didn't belong. I looked different
      and felt like an outsider" (Interview with Vibhuti Patel in Newsweek
      International, 9-20-99).

      At a press conference in Calcutta in January of 2001, Lahiri
      described this absence of belonging, "No country is my motherland. I
      always find myself in exile in whichever country I travel to, that's
      why I was tempted to write something about those living their lives
      in exile" (http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/jan/11jhum.htm). This idea
      of exile runs consistently throughout Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize winning
      book Interpreter of Maladies.

      The book brings to light many of the issues with identity faced by
      the Diaspora community. The book contains the stories of first and
      second generation Indian immigrants, as well as a few stories
      involving ideas of otherness among communities in India. The stories
      revolve around the difficulties of relationships, communication and a
      loss of identity for those in diaspora. No matter where the story
      takes place, the characters struggle with the same feelings of exile
      and the struggle between the two worlds by which they are torn. The
      stories deal with the always shifting lines between gender,
      sexuality, and social status within a diaspora. Whether the character
      be a homeless woman from India or an Indian male student in the
      United States, all the characters display the effects of displacement
      in a diaspora.

      Lahiri has won many awards for Interpreter of Maladies. These awards
      and honors include The Pulitzer Prize in 2000, The Transatlantic
      Review Award from the Henfield Foundation, The Louisiana Review Award
      for Short Fiction, the O. Henry Award for Best American Short
      Stories, the PEN/Hemingway Award, The New Yorker Debut ofthe Year
      Award and The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award. Lahiri also
      received a nomination for the LA Times Book prize as well as the
      Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002. She has published three stories in The
      New Yorker, as well as published works in the Agni, Epoch, The
      Louisville Review, Harvard Review and the Story Quarterly
      (www.pulitzer.org). Lahiri is currently living in New York with her
      husband and son. Lahiri released her first novel in September of
      2003. The novel is titled The Namesake and it follows the trials of a
      newlywed couple who immigrate to Cambridge, Massachusetts, from
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