Jhumpa Lahiri is absolutely an author you should know. Beyond her numerous awards (Pulitzer Prize, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, Asian American Literary Award, and National Humanities Medal, to name a few), Lahiri is one of the most talked about writers from the early 2000s. And with her new novel Whereabouts coming out on April 27, we may just see her name making headlines and bestseller lists again very soon. But if you’re new to Jhumpa Lahiri’s work, how do you decide where to begin? With novels, short story collections, and nonfiction titles, it can be challenging to decide where to start. That’s why we’ve created this guide to the best Jhumpa Lahiri books from her debut in 1999 to today.
Who is Jhumpa Lahiri?
Born to Bengali immigrants in London, Jhumpa Lahiri moved to Rhode Island with her family at the age of 3. The first-generation immigrant experience, particularly for Indian Americans, is a focus of much of her work. Her characters frequently face cultural clashes between their homelands and their new home countries. She also highlights the difficult position of first-generation Americans as they navigate their parents’ expectations while trying to live authentically. Lahiri’s prose is quiet and spare, yet remarkably powerful, and her characters’ struggles with legacy and societal expectations are unforgettable.
After moving to Italy in 2011, Lahiri learned to speak and write in Italian, growing fascinated with the language and the process of translation. Starting with translating works by other authors from Italian to English, Lahiri then tried something entirely new. She began writing in Italian, exploring how the new language impacted her work, and then translating it into English. In this way, she published two nonfiction essay collections and a novel in Italian. Her upcoming novel Whereabouts was first published in Italian in 2018.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s work has grown and morphed since her debut short story collection was published in 1999. Her future books are sure to take readers on an unexpected journey. But for now, let’s talk about where to start with the Jhumpa Lahiri books currently available.
Start With Short Stories
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Call me a traditionalist, but I think Jhumpa Lahiri’s first published book is the perfect place to start with her work. Lahiri burst into the literary scene with Interpreter of Maladies, earning her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The New Yorker’s Best Debut of the Year, and even a place on Oprah Winfrey’s book list. The stories feature Indians and Indian Americans navigating the intersection of their ancestral and chosen homelands, a signature of Lahiri’s work. Start with Interpreter of Maladies for the enchanting prose, heartfelt characters, and short form that brought Lahiri to fame.
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri’s second short story collection takes the themes of her first book a little further. The eight stories in Unaccustomed Earth are longer, more complex, and more emotional. They also extend several generations beyond those in her earlier stories of Indian Americans, and several of the stories are interconnected. Family ties and cultural expectations are again the star of the show, but seeing Lahiri develop her characters even further shows her mastery and skill as a writer. It’s not often a short story collection can make you cry, but this one will absolutely do it.
Next, A Novel
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Once you’ve read some of Lahiri’s short form work, watch how brilliantly she can tell a longer story. The Lowland begins with two inseparable brothers, Subhash and Udayan, in 1960s Calcutta. Their paths diverge when Subhash moves to Rhode Island for graduate school and Udayan stays behind, embracing the Naxalite Movement. As they grow older and farther apart, their loves, tragedies, and ties to family prove that their paths are forever intertwined. This epic, emotional story explores themes of identity, fate, and legacy.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, later turned into a film starring Kal Penn, started as a story in The New Yorker. Gogol Ganguli grows up in Boston as the child of Bengali immigrants, embarrassed by his strange name. His story unwinds with familiar themes of family and culture clashes, along with deeply human experiences of loss, love, and self-discovery. Gogol’s journey to find the boundaries of his own identity is moving, and showcases the quiet moments where Jhumpa Lahiri truly shines.
Meet the Author
In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri’s first work of nonfiction essays shows a change in focus, and it’s her most personal work yet. After moving to Italy and learning Italian, she grew enamored with the language. But even more, she became fascinated with the process of learning a new language and the way language shapes the world we experience. Originally written in Italian, In Other Words tells Lahiri’s story of learning to express herself and find her voice in a new language. By reflecting on her own experience learning Italian, she also explores the concept of belonging. If you’re looking forward to reading Whereabouts in April, In Other Words is the perfect book to read in the meantime to gain a window into Lahiri’s linguistic journey.
We hope this guide to the best Jhumpa Lahiri books helped you decide where to start with the beloved author’s works! Be sure to check out Reading Pathways to your favorite authors. You might also enjoy: