Whereabouts : A Novel – Jhumpa Lahiri
‘The city doesn’t beckon or lend me
a shoulder today. Maybe it knows I’m about
to leave. The sun’s dull disk defeats me; the
dense sky is the same one that will carry me away.
That vast and vaporous territory, lacking precise
pathways, is all that binds us together now. But it
never preserves our tracks. The sky, unlike the sea,
never holds on to the people that pass through it.
The sky contains nothing of our spirit, it doesn’t
care. Always shifting, altering its aspect from one
moment to the next, it can’t be defined.’
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Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s ravishing new novel follows an unnamed narrator in an unnamed city. Over the arc of one year, in the middle of her life’s journey, she realises that she’s lost her way.
Whereabouts celebrates ordinary life and community while exploring existential themes of presence and absence. Lahiri’s narrator, a woman questioning her place in the world, wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and a refusal to form lasting ties. the city she calls home acts as her companion and interlocutor: traversing the streets around her house, and in parks, piazzas, museums, stores and coffee bars, she feels less alone. We follow her to the pool she frequents, and to the train station that leads to her mother, who is mired in her own solitude after her husband’s untimely death. Among those who appear on this woman’s path are colleagues with whom she feels ill at ease, casual acquaintances and ‘him’, a shadow that both consoles and unsettles her. Until one day at the sea, both overwhelmed and replenished by the sun’s vital heat, her perspective abruptly changes.
As exquisitely nuanced portrait of urban solitude, Whereabouts shimmers with beauty and possibility. It is also a thrilling departure for Jhumpa Lahiri – this is her first novel written in Italian, as well as the first time she has self-translated a full lenth of work. The reader will find the qualities that make Lahiri’s work so beloved – deep intelligence and feeling, richly textured physical and emotional landscapes and a poetics of dislocation. But this novel, a play of shadow and light, also signals a bold shift of style ans sensibility, and an artist reveling in new form.
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