"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)
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
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.
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.
Her last book
This short (157 pages) novel won't be everyone's
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.
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.
“ There is no escape
This book is filled with thoughts like this. I love it.
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.
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."
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.
A nameless city in Italy. A nameless woman who wanders its streets, observing, remembering, waiting. Its citizens are shadows, their actions a constant disappointment. When companionship offers nothing but an acute feeling of loneliness, being ALONE is the appropriate choice.
One of the most enticing, poignant novels I've ever read.
''My sleep grows lighter and then it abandons me entirely. I wait until someone, anyone, drives by. The thoughts that come to roost in my head in those moments are always the gloomiest, also the most precise. That silence, combined with the black sky, takes hold over me until the first light returns and dispels those thoughts, until I hear the presence of lives passing by along the road below me.''
This was very much