Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri – Book Review – Inspiring and Poignant Story
My Rating – 4.5 out of 5
Plot Summary – Whereabouts
Jhumpa Lahiri, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist in 2000 for The Interpreter of Maladies, had written her first novel in Italian, in 2018 – Dove Mi Trovo (Where I Find Myself), and then translated it back to English in 2021 – Whereabouts. Written completely in first person, it takes no names, neither of any of the characters, nor of any places. Though it is clear that it is based in Italy, she doesn’t specify which city this is set in.
That aspect adds a certain mystery, a charm to the story – you always want to know that about the characters you read about – where they live, what they are called etc. and you also realize that in the larger scheme of story telling, it does not matter!
There is thick vein of melancholy that runs through the book, but it doesn’t settle on deep sadness. It dwells on incidents from the past, but it doesn’t wallow in the depths of despair wrought by the unhappy ones. It’s written like the dairy entries of a lonely soul – that is what the protagonist is – a forty something, unattached woman, living alone in an unnamed city, where she knows many and many know her. Still, she’s alone in a crowd, craving for solitude while living among a multitude of lonely souls.
It is the story of a woman living alone, with lots of time on her hands for contemplation and brooding. She has mixed feelings for her parents, her father is dead and her mother lives in another unnamed city. She is an academic, a professor who teaches in a college (unnamed, again), people address her as Dottoresa (here, a PhD Scholar) as she goes about her daily life, ruminating on what is and what could have been. She thinks about her past liaisons, ex-boyfriends, her father and his distance from his own family, her mother and her irritable nature.
There are whiffs of romance with married men, husbands’ of friends but nothing comes off it. There is a sense of unfulfilled aspirations running through the narrative, something cherished but never found. She witnesses happy families, unhappy families, people going about their lives all around her and thinks what could be if she were to be in their situations. She buys theater tickets one year in advance, not knowing if she will be in town that day or not. She buys knickknacks from roadside vendors without whether she will ever use them or if she even needs them.
Summary – Book Review of Whereabouts
It’s a life led in isolation, always questioning the day ahead without knowing the answers to the questions the day gone by asked. The beauty of the rather thin novel lies in its wistful melancholia, it’s not the dairy of an exciting life, rather a mundane, average progression with a sense of introspection so strong that it leaves the reader with a sense of unfulfilled desire. There are no twists in the tale, no climax to breathtakingly wait for, just a poignant narrative pregnant with possibilities which are stillborn, not long after.
If you are in the mood for a contemplative read with deep channels running just under the surface, this will be a good read. She kicks up a good game with her great grasp of the language and beautiful imagery that she captures with her words. Most of the times, it’s a mesmerizing journey, enjoy it people!
* I hope you have liked reading this book review, as much as I have enjoyed writing this! Do watch this space for more such reviews and navigate through the links below for more reviews… Thank you!! *