The Namesake | Study Guide

Jhumpa Lahiri

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Jhumpa Lahiri | Biography

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Early Life and Education

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London on July 11, 1967. Her parents had immigrated to England from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in the region of Bengal in eastern India. Like the narrator in Lahiri's short story "The Third and Final Continent," her parents then relocated from the United Kingdom to the United States, where her father took a job as a librarian. Lahiri graduated from Barnard College in New York City. She then attended Boston University for graduate studies, earning several master's degrees and then a doctorate in Renaissance studies.

Literary Success

In 1999 Lahiri published her first work of fiction, the short story collection Interpreter of Maladies in which "The Third and Final Continent" appears. Her book was an immediate and widespread critical and commercial success, earning her the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and the PEN/Hemingway Award. Four years later, Lahiri published The Namesake, a novel that traces the fortunes of an Indian family that relocates to the United States. A film adaptation of the book premiered in 2006.

Later Works

In 2008 Lahiri published a second short story collection entitled Unaccustomed Earth. Once again, her major themes and characters involved immigration, assimilation, communication, and cultural differences. This collection reached the best-seller list of the New York Times. In 2013 Lahiri's novel The Lowland focused on the contrasting experiences of two brothers, one living in India and the other in the United States. This work became a finalist for the National Book Award and was shortlisted for England's Man Booker Prize, a highly prestigious award for fiction.

Writing in Italian

In 2015 Lahiri published a nonfiction chronicle entitled In Other Words, recounting her decision to immerse herself in her third language, Italian, both oral and written, with a special focus on how writing in an acquired language affected her style. Lahiri's sudden change to Italian caught the attention of literary critics. In an interview with Cressida Leyshon in The New Yorker (January 22, 2018), Lahiri said, "I think, see, and feel differently in Italian. I say things more simply but also more directly." Lahiri noted that the populism in both the United States and Italy reinforced the view of immigrants as outsiders even when they have lived in their adopted country for years. She found that in Italy, "the notion of an 'Italian' remains, racially, quite exclusive, i.e., unequivocally white." Her work in Italian continues to tell stories of immigrant families of color as in her English works, but from the perspective of another country. Lahiri's intimate knowledge of immigrant experiences and her fluid, descriptive prose continue to be the hallmark of her work and the inspiration of writers of immigrant fiction worldwide.

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