Sunday, July 13, 2008

Unaccustomed to literary fiction

I'm unaccustomed to literary fiction because I don't read it very often. But I do appreciate it when I do, as I finished Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth with a satisfied sigh this morning. This book was in a batch of adult audiobooks (which always sounds like they are rated X ... audiobooks for adult listeners) that was delivered and divvied up among the committee. I took this one, knowing full well that it probably wasn't going to be one with much teen interest. Most of the characters are adults with the angst associated with marriage and families, and Lahiri's adults have the added angst of cultural hyphenation, as all her characters are Indian-Americans. Still, it was pure pleasure to indulge in. The short stories in this collection are tiny gems of literature -- I love the way the elements slipped so effortlessly and enjoyably into place.

The stories were read by two Indian-American (or perhaps not American?) readers: Sarita Choudhury and Ajay Naidu. Each read stories -- or the parts of stories -- where the narrator or perspective was female or male. I was glad of this production decision. They each read with what sounded to me as the speech patterns of people who grew up with parents who spoke Indian-accented English; and could slip easily into that accent, or one of white American or British speakers as well. Each had an extremely pleasant speaking voice to listen to. Swedish and Italian proved a little more elusive, but not disturbingly so. On the other hand, Naidu seemed to be reading his stories with an overwhelming emphasis -- every word was pounded in, although the emphasis did vary. While I enjoyed the stories he was reading, his approach did become a little tiresome to listen to.

It's kind of hard not to recommend listening, though (although I don't recommend this for our list): Letting Lahiri's beautiful prose wash over you as it is read by people that you assume sound like her. The cultural appropriateness outweighs the faults of the narrator, I think. Much like Sherman Alexie.

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