An Open Letter to Jhumpa Lahiri

Dear Ms. Lahiri,

It has been about two and a half years since I’ve read a novel from beginning to end. Residency sort of interferes with leisurely reading, especially when one’s mind is occupied with reading journals, studying for exams, and staring at computer screen trying to absorb a patient’s entire health history in a matter of 10 minutes. The last book I finished reading was during my three-week trip to India in 2011 (24-hour transit times make for good reading). Since finishing the boards and starting a new job where I now have much more free time to do the things that have been on the back-burner for so long, I finally felt the urge to pick up a book again and escape from the present moment for a while. My first step back into the world of literature began with your novel The Lowland.

I have already read your other three works and loved each one in succession. Short stories were never a favorite of mine even though I am well aware of the skill needed to produce such a work. One must organize a plot and develop characters in such a way that fulfills the reader and does not feel untidy, incohesive, and rushed. I’ve read a few short stories, but novels were always my preference. It was not until I read your two marvelous works, The Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth, that I fell in love with the short story. Your way of molding characters with such depth and emotional capacity in such a short span of pages blew me away. Moreover, at times I felt as if you had been spying on my life, emotions, and thoughts while writing your stories. Long-forgotten memories from childhood would come flooding back to the forefront of my consciousness with a few saccades of the eyes over your words. Even the simple description of a piece of furniture in a room could be familiar to me.

Although our origins are from different states in India, the experiences of your characters in relation to their heritage and ethnicity ring true. You hit the nail on the head with depictions of loneliness in a foreign land, and the strained (or even estranged) connections between immigrant parents and their American-born children. You can intertwine two people together in pure, simple love; you can unhinge and deconstruct the relationship between two people with surprising subtlety. You even get me thinking about minor, forgotten occurrences with fresh insight. Important life lessons may have otherwise been missed had it not been for one of your stories, one of your characters.

As I read The Lowland and understood the characters with each page, it inspired me to draw on my own life experiences and possibly to begin to write, to create. I have only ever penned poetry, always fearing a lack of depth in writing fiction. It is one thing to weave abstract notions into a free-flowing poem, the intent of which is solely to unravel my own thoughts in a (hopefully) beautiful way. It is another to write the way you do, touching the very heart and soul of people worldwide who can relate to your vision of the human experience, no matter where they come from.

Perhaps it was happenstance that The Lowland was my first return to fiction in so long. Or perhaps it was purposeful. It will take a great deal of time, and a greater deal of courage, but I am newly inspired to move forward with my writing.

Thank you.

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