Whereabouts: A novel

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Hardcover, 2021

Status

Available

Publication

Knopf (2021), Edition: 1st, 176 pages

Description

"A marvelous new novel from the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Lowland and Interpreter of Maladies--her first in nearly a decade. Exuberance and dread, attachment and estrangement: in this novel, Jhumpa Lahiri stretches her themes to the limit. The woman at the center wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and the refusal to form lasting ties. The city she calls home, an engaging backdrop to her days, acts as a confidant: the sidewalks around her house, parks, bridges, piazzas, streets, stores, coffee bars. We follow her to the pool she frequents and to the train station that sometimes leads her to her mother, mired in a desperate solitude after her father's untimely death. In addition to colleagues at work, where she never quite feels at ease, she has girl friends, guy friends, and "him," a shadow who both consoles and unsettles her. But in the arc of a year, as one season gives way to the next, transformation awaits. One day at the sea, both overwhelmed and replenished by the sun's vital heat, her perspective will change. This is Jhumpa Lahiri's first novel she wrote in Italian and translated into English. It brims with the impulse to cross barriers. By grafting herself onto a new literary language, Lahiri has pushed herself to a new level of artistic achievement"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member browner56
In Whereabouts, we spend about a year in the life of an unnamed, middle-aged woman living in a large Italian city, also unnamed. Told in a series of 46 very short vignettes, the novella draws the portrait of a person thoroughly committed to preserving her solitude. She is unmarried, apparently by
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choice, and all of her relationships—friends, lovers past and present, parents, professional colleagues at the university where she works—have a distinct fleeting quality to them, as if getting involved with people beyond a cursory level is something she either cannot or prefers not to do. Although we get a few hints from her upbringing that might explain her feelings, there is really no structure to the story so what we are left with is a moving, but sad, mosaic of an existence that a lot of people would consider to be very lonely.

It is worth noting that this book has a fascinating history in itself. Although born in London to Bengali parents and raised in the United States, celebrated author Jhumpa Lahiri wrote and first published this story in Italian under the title Dove Mi Trovo. What Whereabouts represents then is the English language version of that earlier work. Interestingly, Lahiri herself did the translation, which was a curious choice that begs the question why she did not write it in English to begin with. That is not an idle notion because it is really impossible for the English-speaking reader to know exactly how faithfully this new version compares to the original work. For instance—and forgive my relatively basic command of Italian here—I would have translated the book’s title to be mean something closer to “Where I Find Myself” or “Where I Am”, which conveys a far less subtle meaning than the one the author choose.

I definitely came away with a mixed impression of this work. On one hand, Lahiri is a brilliant writer who has crafted some amazing thoughts and images that added up to an affecting glimpse into the mind of a person who is at once incredibly strong and emotionally frail. Offsetting that, however, was the lack of anything resembling a plot that would have given a context to all of the angst and sorrow. As I was reading the novella, I found myself thinking of Elizabeth Hardwick’s marvelous Sleepless Nights (and even Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge), which covered similar ground in a far more compelling way. So, while there is always much to savor in Lahiri’s prose, this is not a book that compares to the best of her previous work. I only wish I could improve my Italian enough to read it in the way the author originally intended.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Whereabouts: A Novel, Jhumpa Lahiri, author; Susan Vinciotti Bonitio, narrator
When I finished this brief novel, I stopped for a moment to try and figure out what the author had tried to convey. At first, it seemed so simplistic and thin, I was at a loss. Then I began to think about the stories the
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main character shared. The book was filled with the nitty gritty of the main character’s life, although the reader may not have realized that at first, because she seems to be purposeless and so disconnected from any firm relationships . By and large, too, she is the only character in the novel to consider, since all of the others mentioned are almost bystanders, not very involved in her life, and not very deeply developed. Yet we know who they are as they come in out of our protagonist’s life, almost like phantoms.
This woman, of indeterminate age, seems to drift through her life, almost haphazardly. She resists close relationships as they require a commitment she is not willing to make. She does not seem to want responsibility to anyone but herself for any extended period of time. She wanders in her city and imagines what the lives of others are like, without ever finding out if her suppositions are, in fact, close to reality. She seems to enjoy life vicariously. Many of the relationships she does somewhat make seem superficial and foolhardy without any real possibility of a long term involvement. She has friends, but she does not seem fully dedicated to them and seems to move on without a backward glance.
Lahiri has examined her life, and it comes up pretty empty as far as most of us would be concerned, but she seems fairly contented. Or, is she? Is she really lonely and a bit in awe of the relationships that others share? Is this why she moved on, temporarily, to whole new life experience. Can she overcome her parents problematic relationship and her lack of appropriate feeling towards her loved ones? Is it resentment or fear of an intimate relationship, because she has lived with a poor example, that holds her back?
So, after thinking about the purpose of the novel, I realized it made me think about a lot of possible issues in our own lives that help us to have a healthy outlook or a sad outlook. Sometimes the most petty reasons seemed to create catastrophes. Is the desire to be alone, on one’s own, healthy or is it indicative of a life that lacks purpose? Where was this woman heading eventually, forward, backward or remaining in stasis? What could possibly motivate her, or anyone, to choose one lifestyle over another? At the end of the day, this book will leave a thoughtful reader with lots to think about.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I have long loved Lahiri's novels and short stories. Whereabouts is her fist novel in over a decade. It was originally written in Italian, the language of the country in which she has resided since 2011. (She was born in London and raised in the US.)

This short (157 pages) novel won't be everyone's
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cup of tea, but if you enjoy character-driven stories and don't mind the lack of a strong plotline, I highly recommend it. The writing is beautiful and the narrator's insights and observations--the heart of the book--are sometimes mundane but also at times surprising and perceptive, and she brings the reader along with her. The unnamed narrator has similarities to Lahiri herself. She's a 40-something academic living and teaching in an unnamed small Italian town. She shops, she has coffee with friends, she takes care of a couple's dog when they leave for a funeral, she reminisces about past affairs (none of which led to marriage). She observes her neighbors and the people she passes on the bridge she crosses every day on her way to work. She tries to personalize the office that seems still to belong to its previous occupant. She would like to get to know the aging philosopher who lives in her building but hesitates to invade his privacy.

The novel is written in short chapters, some only a page in length, whose titles only hint at their content, usually by location. In the Piazza. In My Head. At the Museum. In the Pool. At the Ticket Counter. By the Sea. In Winter. At the Coffee Bar. You get the idea. These are not journal entries but more a look inside the narrator's mind and emotions as she experiences the moment. She begins at a point of stagnation but ends in movement On the Train. That's as much of a plot as I can come up with--but it doesn't matter. This was a beautifully written, sensitive portrait of a woman in the middle of her life, looking backwards at times but living in the moment and, finally (and somewhat hesitantly) moving forward in the end. Many reviewers describe this as a book about love, loneliness, and the mistakes of the past. While those elements are present, there is so much more to Whereabouts, and so much packed into each short chapter. It's one of those books that I will definitely return to, expecting to gain more insights each time that I read it.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Sometimes an interior monologue narration feels awkward or artificial. Not the case here. Jhumpa Lahiri's latest novel works beautifully. This structure is a departure from the style of her earlier novels. How refreshing! Her prose flows beautifully and is gently lyrical. The novel addresses the
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significance of place. The narrator shares impressions and experiences sorted by their whereabouts. As she reflects on her life she seems to grow stronger and eventually is ready to venture to a new place, and I felt happy for her. A reflective, meditative pleasure.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
A big fan of most Lahiri's books up to date, I was slightly puzzled at first - it didn't read like her prose this time. But half way through the book, I glanced back and discovered that she wrote the book in Italian at first and then translated it into English! It made sense then!

Her last book
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(non-fiction), about her learning Italian (a wonderful memoir!) was also written in Italian but translated by somebody else, as she was probably not sure of herself yet as far as doing that. But this translation of her Italian writing into English is by her own hand!!! I am immensely impressed by her ability to communicate so well in Italian (!) - as to be able to write a novel!!! And although I didn't exceedingly care for the novel's overall tone set by the heroine, I found this ruminative account of a woman's life, as she describes it in the present, with flashbacks into her past, rather striking. Lahiri knows how to pointedly refer to something without much fuss, but with a clear picture of what's going on.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
This book was just what I needed! I was looking for a thoughtful book with interconnected chapters rather than a book with a storyline. Told in first person, by an unnamed middle-aged woman, living in an unnamed European city, it is recollections of her daily life. The narrator is more of a
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melancholy person that a cheerful person. The 46 short chapters are her observations of people she meets. It is a sad book but Lahari’s prose is so elegant and so subtle the reader is immersed in this woman’s life. Normally, I don’t like books with unnamed narrators, but this narrator could be any of us.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri gives us the middle-aged version of the recently popular plotless novels about angsty women (see Normal People, Weather, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, etc.). We dwell in the world of a 40-something, nameless main character in a nameless town in Italy where she
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works, has friends and relationships, but cannot move on from her difficult childhood. Lahiri metes out information in short, mundane first-person segments of life with titles like “At the Station”, “At Dinner”, etc. with her precise but descriptive language. Lahiri wrote Whereabouts in Italian and translated it into English herself, and there is a feeling that every word in this sparse book was carefully plotted and chosen. None of this is to say that I did not enjoy Whereabouts — I did — Lahiri’s writing makes this woman’s musing and her descriptive settings quite enjoyable for the wisely brief 150ish pages of the book. Would I have liked some plot and just more from Lahiri? Yes, but I will take what I can get, and I think literary readers and her fans will agree.
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LibraryThing member Carmenere
This is Lahiri's newest and I've got to say, not quite what I expected. It is unlike her previous novels and may not be for everyone. Still, her writing is succinct and sense of place is spot on. At times, I found myself really relating to Lahiri's narrator but the novels melancholy atmosphere is
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definitely not a joyful read.
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LibraryThing member Perednia
Beautifully written vignettes that add up to the story of a life. Perhaps Lahiri's writing originally in Italian, then translating her work into English, helped inspire the evocative moments. Many little moments were deeply connective to what many others can feel in their own lives. A book I'll
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read more than once.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
A very short book about a woman’s life. Well written but not what I expect or look for by this author. It was definitely a “so what” book.
LibraryThing member Beamis12
A middle aged woman, never named, in an unknown city, this book contains over 40 vignettes. The woman is a people watched, a depressive and bother want to connect with others, but also loves her solitude. An internal rendering of daily events in a life, she explains what she does and what she
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thinks, about events, and people. Does she want more, less? She's not certain and so neither are we the readers. A plotless book, there is no clear path to the denouement. What does it all mean?

Her first book in Italian, translated to English, I had no problem with her writing. Different from her other books, one can see at various times, glimpses of old self, her previous works. But for me, she didn't quite get there. It's a short book, but one whose focus is centered on one person and her experiences. Is this enough? Think each reader will have to decide this for themselves.

ARC from Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This book is quite different from Lahiri's previous fiction. Having become fluent in Italian, this book originally was published in Italian in 2018 and was translated into English by Lahiri for this publication. It is a short novel written in 2-3 page chapters about places in the life of a 45 year
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old Italian professor. We only know it is in Italy. The main character tells us about her life through the short chapters. She has her routines, her connections, and by the end of the book we have a clear picture about her. It is very well written but moves slowly and may not be for everyone. There is a sadness to her narration but all in all it is a worthwhile read. It is probably not the best representation of Lahiri's talent as a writer but one to read if you have read some of her other work.
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LibraryThing member kayanelson
Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite authors. This book did not disappoint. I loved the short chapters that told of the life of a single woman who liked her solitary life. But it’s the little thoughts that Lahiri inserts that show what a truly great writer she is. An example:

“ There is no escape
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from the shadows that mount, inexorably, in this darkening season. Nor can we escape the shadows our families cast. That said, there are times I miss the pleasant shade a companion might provide.”

This book is filled with thoughts like this. I love it.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
In this novel, a woman lives a quiet life in an unnamed Italian city. Each short chapter centers on a daily activity; going to the store to buy a notebook, spotting a friend arguing in the street, remembering her father's love of theatre. As the novel progresses, the woman seems less content with
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the life she has chosen.

This is a short novel full of gorgeous writing, the kind of writing that pulled me right in and I would have gladly read a much longer novel about this solitary, lonely woman going through her day.
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LibraryThing member davidroche
No idea really why I picked up Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest novel Whereabaouts (Bloomsbury) – I guess that’s the secret sauce that we’d all like to be able to identify. Perhaps because I remember her name from the Booker shortlist in recent years, perhaps because this Pulitzer winning author
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decided to write this novel in Italian. It’s a novel not built on plot but a depiction of solitude through various chapters set in everyday situations in, one assumes, a generic Italian town. It is based on the narrator’s observations and musings with little of note happening but it is not surprising to learn of the string of awards that Lahiri has picked up along the way for her writing. I’ve immediately dived into another collection of her short stories, and that’s a pretty good recommendation after one’s first experience of an author’s work.
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LibraryThing member pgmcc
This is a well written exercise in developing a literary jigsaw. Each chapter is like a jigsaw piece, or tile in a mosaic. Each chapter is a vignette that shows you an aspect of the narrator's life, and after reading every chapter you have a picture of her life. There is no linear temporal
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progression through the book, but snippets of the character's life are exposed to the reader randomly from the timeline of her life. Overall we do see the character change, not necessarily for the better.

It is not a novel, as such, but a well exercised experiment in building the picture of the character and her feelings from incidents and conversations from her life.

The chapters are short and the book is not very long. I am not sure I could have endured it much longer had the book had more pages. It was a quick read, but I was getting a bit bored with the exercise. It may not have been the best of the author's books to start with as it has not encouraged me to read any more of her work.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
NPR
Whereabouts offers a muted portrait of urban solitude marked by an undercurrent of longing. Lahiri's narrator, who deliberately fills her quiet life with routines and rituals, writes, "Solitude: it's become my trade. As it requires a certain discipline, it's a condition I try to perfect."
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Seriously how smart is this author who has already written Pulitzer Prize books and now has decided to write in Italian and then translate her own work into English. That being said, I enjoyed this episodic and observational novel about a 40 something-year-old professor of writing who lives in a town not named but probably Rome and who internalizes her feelings about many of the observations she encounters in her life. The story takes place in the course of about a year, and there are not many big plot events except for a possible romantic encounter with a married man of a friend of hers and that friendship is binding enough to prevent any occurrence of impropriety. Besides that we see her relationships with her neighbors, her butcher, her baker and a niece who visits. Mostly we hear about her own misgivings about roads not taken or pursuits not endeavored into.
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LibraryThing member booklove2
Vignettes about a main character who claims to be in solitude but is constantly moving throughout a city or going on vacation, with many observations of other people around her. An often sad book from the perspective of this woman who can even find sun melancholy. I liked the book well enough, but
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it might get lost among other books of this type, as I love wandering-in-solitude types of books.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
I almost gave up on this a few chapters in, but I'm glad I kept going. Made up of short chapters describing mostly very day to day episodes in the life of the narrator, it gradually forms a picture of her character and life. There is no plot whatsoever, no beginning, middle and end, but
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nevertheless it held my interest. At one point she comments on how, if you live alone, 'you have to know how much time you have to kill' and I find that to be very true
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Easily read in one sitting, these very short chapters give the internal dialogue of a middle-aged woman as she moves around her city over the period of several days (weeks?). She has a love/hate relationship with her mother; apparently did love her father, and seems to be comfortable in
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relationships with married men. One of the most memorable chapters is "The Trattoria" where she oversees a young father attempting to build a relationship with his very distracted young daughter who is more interested in her phone than him. Sad, but so well-written and true. The rest is good writing, but sort of so what?
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LibraryThing member bell7
An unnamed narrator lives in an unnamed Italian city, working as an academic and making her way as a single middle-aged woman through life. The woman heads each short chapter with a location - "At home" or "By the sea" - and recounts the quotidian events of a calendar year.

This was very much
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outside my comfort zone, and I'm not sure I ever really got into the rhythm of it. I wasn't sure about the narrator. She seems to have a quiet life and on the surface is much like me, but for most of the story she keeps her distance from everyone around her and the reader. She's just observing, not really involved in events or letting you in on her emotions for most of the book, so when they do break through it's quite surprising. I was left at the end wondering if there would be any change for our narrator or if she would continue to go through the motions without really enjoying life.
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LibraryThing member Smits
To me this novel is more a collection of vignettes or short stories although they are all about the author. I read this small novel in a day. I do love the wayJhumpa Lahiri writes but I wouldn’t consider this a story.
LibraryThing member AnnieMod
A novel in scenes. At first glance, there are no connections between the short chapters which make up this very short novel except for the main character (who is also our narrator). But then the connections slowly start building up - the same person shows up, the same feeling connects two separate
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stories across the pages.

And yet, the novel remains just loosely connected. It is like glimpses into the life of the narrator - an Italian woman in her mid-40s who shows us glimpses of her life - at home, on the street, at work. It feels almost as if the reader is intruding into a private life - and in a way that is the idea I suspect. The novel does have an end the story leads to - it is not a slice of life exactly even if it feels that way for most of the text.

Short novels can work - when they have the complexity of a novel. This feels like a long story and less as a novel - which also made it somewhat disappointing but also very hard to judge. If I had gone into it not expecting a novel, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. I loved the language, I liked the emotion but its marketing really failed the book.
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LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
Pleasant, slice of life novel, but not one that will stick with me.
LibraryThing member steve02476
Melancholy, descriptive, self-analytical. Presented as a novel but the many short chapters are all self-contained tiny short stories, a few continuing characters, but mostly not, other than the protagonist (it’s all written in first person). Maybe I should have rated it higher but I’m so
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disappointed that one of my favorite writers has changed so much. Certainly it’s her her right to change her writing and explore new things. Also my right to not like it nearly as much as her first novels and short-stories, which I loved so much.
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Awards

Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2022)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — 2022)

Language

Original language

English
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