From Unaccustomed Earth


Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

I found this brief quote on the book “Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri. The theme of the first story of her book is based on this quote. I saved this quote since the early 2000s. I lived in different places, felt tides and waves of different cultures and could not agree more with the quote. This quote by Hawthrone and two other quotes by Lahiri from the same book are going to be the second entry to my Tailpiece collection.


I love exploring different literary genres (except apocalyptic zombie novels. Still I cannot understand how people enjoy reading and even watching anything related to that. But I don’t understand so many things of this world, I could ignore it too!). In the process if I become a fan of any particular writer, I read everything that he/she writes. I read Lahiri’s first book “Interpreter of Maladies” when I was a teenager. It is still one of my most favorite books and Lahiri is my most favorite writer. She has written four masterpieces and won Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and PEN/Hemingway Award.

Some writers make every word precious; every word on their books makes you pause and think a little. Lahiri’s creations have that effect on me. Maybe because she writes about my subculture, maybe because she writes about a part of the world to which I belong, maybe because in every story there’s someone who I know enough, maybe because nobody else ever wrote about feelings of strangers in a strange land so well. Lahiri’s books have been cultural translators for a small community, mostly ivy-league educated people, PhD holders, MITians, dreamers struck by nostalgia in America.

I remember someone once asked me, “Do you have two names? I read “The Namesake”, I know you people get two names.” I found it strange to believe that Lahiri was so brave to make a small community and their inner conflicts her subject. It is risky as it does not appeal to larger audience. Who really has time to think about the mismatched lifestyle of highly educated Indians in America? 

All four books by Lahiri are based on Bengali- Indian community in America, on their disconnection with their parents’ country, their adaptation to new culture, their parents’ perspectives outside their country of origin, the sense of not fitting in, a background of morale, folklore and rich heritage of another country where the protagonists never stayed.

I have my favorite lines, phrases, situations in all four books. But today I will share two poignant quotes from Unaccustomed Earth, they carry Lahiri’s craftsmanship and little quirks of life really well. If you are a word-lover, you are going to fall in love with them.


He owned an expensive camera that required thought before you pressed the shutter, and I quickly became his favorite subject, round-faced, missing teeth, my thick bangs in need of a trim. They are still the pictures of myself I like best, for they convey that confidence of youth I no longer possess, especially in front of a camera.
― Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth


And wasn’t it terrible, how much he looked forward to those moments, so much so that sometimes even a ride by himself on the subway was the best part of the day? Wasn’t it terrible that after all the work one put into finding a person to spend one’s life with, after making a family with that person, even in spite of missing that person…that solitude was what one relished the most, the only thing that, even in fleeting, diminished doses, kept one sane?
― Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth


** I have a created a new Category on my blog: “Tailpiece”. Time to time I am going to add favorite poems, quotes and lines from known and unknown books here.



Author: Archita

Musings about life and photography.

9 thoughts on “From Unaccustomed Earth”

  1. “The Namesake” still touches my heart 🙂 I wonder what Lahiri would have felt if she had read your post but nevertheless i know she would have been really proud of you 🙂

  2. I am also a huge fan of Jhumpa Lahiri and read Unaccustomed Earth, second time this year. Brilliant book and love the sensitive portrayals of Desi characters in US, how they adopted their new home:)

  3. I know the extra-ordinary poignancy the quote carries. I’m happy to read that you have a friend with you during this life event. Jhumpa Lahiri is an author who makes every word precious. I liked that part from her fiction so much because of the wonderful imagery she created. I can tell you, there’s a story in the book that makes me fall in love with life again and again, it is about mother-daughter and father-daughter relationship during a loss. There’s not a single thing that I can relate to in that story, but still every word makes so much sense. Some authors are like magicians.

    I’m there for friends, family and even for non-friends and non-family, I make en effort. I know the world is not so nice when someone feels alone due to a life altering event. I have a short but first hand experience on that. Thank you for sharing your story and also the suggestion. Take care, Patrick.

  4. I adore English Literature from the subcontinent. Recently I read a book that’s so inspiring that all other self-help and motivational books can retire. But still we do not hear much about them, right. Rest of the world, perhaps, still thinks Indian stories are all about camels, bullock carts, elephants and snake charmer and slum-dog stories, I am sure very soon that cliche will disappear.:) Lahiri is an Indian American author. She was not born in India.
    If you don’t mind can I ask you who are your favorite authors from Pakistan?

  5. Tailpiece idea is brilliant. I love reading Pakistani and Indian authora because they describe things from our cultural perspective. And books are always more magical when you can relate to
    them right:)? I think I’ll get my hands on some Lahiri books.

  6. “Wasn’t it terrible that after all the work one put into finding a person to spend one’s life with, after making a family with that person, even in spite of missing that person…that solitude was what one relished the most, the only thing that, even in fleeting, diminished doses, kept one sane?”

    I found this quote very interesting on different levels. The key word for me was “missing”. The two most stressful events any person can experience in life are death of a spouse or a dissolution of a marriage (one has closure and one is very difficult). Both are given the same number on the stress scale. I’m making an assumption that in the context of this quote, neither has happened. Being an introvert, I can see how solitude would keep one sane. In the case of the most stressful event in a person’s life, solitude does not help. I know this from first hand experience. Fortunately for me a friend, who is also in the same boat, reached out to me. So if you have a friend who has gone into solitude due to a life altering event, reach out to them and just listen. It can make a huge difference.

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