Diane talks with Theodore Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and an expert in race and electoral politics.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri is known for her stories about the immigrant experience. But her latest novel is firmly shaped by the history and politics of post-colonial India. It’s an intimate story of two brothers with opposing personalities: one joins a radical, Maoist group fighting for the rights of the poor, while the other emigrates to America, leaving his family behind. When tragedy strikes, it sets in motion events that unfold over time and place and across generations. A new novel from Jhumpa Lahiri about love and sacrifice, and the true story that inspired the book.
- Jhumpa Lahiri Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Interpreter of Maladies," "The Namesake" and "Unaccustomed Earth."
When does an immigrant not feel like one anymore? Jhumpa Lahiri, best-selling author of “The Namesake” and “Unaccustomed Earth,” often writes about the immigrant experience in her novels. “I imagine that one is always conscious of the place left behind,” she said. Raised in Rhode Island to Indian parents, Lahiri said she will never feel fully American or fully Indian. But she said the process turns a corner with the third generation. Her two sons share a multiethnic heritage: their father is Guatemalan, and the family has lived in New York City and Italy. “I think it’s important to say, ‘I am from a place.’ Though it has aided me, I imagine, as a writer to exist in the margins, as a person, it has been difficult. It has caused me a great deal of confusion.”
Trailer For “The Lowland”
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri. Copyright © 2013 by Jhumpa Lahiri. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri's new novel is rooted in India's postcolonial history and politics. Titled, "The Lowland," it's the story of two brothers, bound by their love and loyalty for each other, and the tragedy that ripples across generations. Based partly on a true story, the novel has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd Jhumpa Lahiri joins me in the studio. I invite you, as always, to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a Tweet. It's good to have you here.
MS. JHUMPA LAHIRILovely to be here, Diane. Thank you.
REHMAnd congratulations on the nomination for the Man Booker Award. What an honor.
LAHIRIIt is, indeed.
REHMJhumpa, talk about the real life story that inspired this novel.
LAHIRII learned about an execution that had taken place very close to my paternal grandparents' home in Calcutta, in the early 1970's, during the government crackdown and repression of the Naxalite Rebellion.
REHMThe Naxalite Rebellion.
LAHIRIYes. This was a Maoist movement in Calcutta. It started in the late 1960's, began as an agrarian revolt in a small village in northern Bengal, and began to gain momentum and to spread and to inspire many, many students in Calcutta. So, it had a sort of urban reverberation, and really marked and transformed both the city and a generation in Calcutta. And the movement was at its height and at its most violent in the early 70's. And then, what followed was an even more brutal repression of this violence by the government.
REHMYou took a long time to write about this.
LAHIRII did. I did. The idea first came to me 16 years ago when I was first really starting out as a writer and getting my bearings. But nevertheless, this, this, this real life incident was something I had sort of grown up with, and had been thinking about on and off for many, many years. Something that effected me very deeply, even though when this happened, in real life, I was quite young and was living in the United States. And really had no connection to those events, to that time, to that historical and political reality.
LAHIRINevertheless, I had grown up in America hearing my parents and their children -- I'm sorry, hearing my parents and their friends talking about what was going on, wondering what was happening, because it was such an intense period for Calcutta and other parts of India. But, in Calcutta, it was such an intense few years, and they wanted to know what was happening, and it was very difficult to know what was happening because information was so limited back then.
REHMWere your grandparents effected?
LAHIRIWell, my paternal grandparents lived in, as I said, in this neighborhood, and were present, were there, I imagine, the evening these two brothers, who lived very close to them, were found by the paramilitary during a raid in the neighborhood, and were killed in front of their parents and some other family members. And, so, you know, they saw it, as it were. I mean, they were there, and I began to learn more about the movement and about this time, I learned that this sort of thing, this sort violence was quite common in Calcutta for a few years.
LAHIRIAnd that parents lived in great fear of their children being, you know, the knock on the door, and the search, and at that point, you know, rules were bent, shall we say, to, you know, make arrests without warrants and to root out any possible suspect, anybody suspected of being involved in this movement. I mean, there was no real order to this, as is typical in many of these types of, you know, crackdowns.
REHMAnd this was in the postcolonial era.
LAHIRIYes, this is, I mean, this is 1971, 1972 when this is really happening.
REHMAnd "The Lowland," the title.
LAHIRII'm sorry? The...
REHM"The Lowland," the title, what does that refer to?
LAHIRIWhat does it signify? It is the place where these two brothers, I heard, had hidden. They had taken refuge in a body of water in a sort of a floodplain that would seasonally, you know, flood with the rain, and they had hidden inside this, you know, behind some growth in the water to escape, to try to escape the paramilitary. But they weren't able to. They weren't successful. They were found.
REHMIn your research, did you learn a great deal about these two young men, and then begin to fictionalize them, or did you simply take the facts as they happened, and then create your own characters?
LAHIRIVery much the latter. I didn't know the family. I don't know them. I simply knew of them, and I knew that there had been two brothers, and that was all. I simply knew that there were two brothers, that they had been involved, that they were very bright students, that they came from a very ordinary family in this neighborhood, and that they had been killed one evening. And that was all I knew, and then I took that and I began to create my own characters.
REHMJhumpa Lahiri is with me. She is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. Her latest novel is titled, "The Lowland." If you'd like to join us, call us. 800-433-8850. I'm so interested in the fact that your novels were always set in Calcutta, and yet you moved here to this country when you were fairly young. That must be a very internal kind of feeling about your country.
LAHIRIWell, I was, you know, I've never lived in India. I was born in London, and then I moved to the United States when I was two, and I've lived here all my life until recently. And I was taken to Calcutta frequently throughout my life, and so it was a place I went to, a place I never returned to in the way that my mother and father were returning to Calcutta.
REHMDid they take you to...
LAHIRIThey took me. They took me. I mean, they went as often as they could to visit their family.
REHMThey wanted you to know your country.
LAHIRIWell, I think...
REHMOr their country.
LAHIRII think they were thinking they just wanted to go back and see their family, and I was young, and so it wasn't really a question that I would accompany them. In any event, I, as a result, I have, within me, a sense of the city of Calcutta, most of all, the city that my parents are from. And I think because my parents remained so deeply connected to Calcutta, preoccupied with the life they had left behind, concerned about it, devoted to it, it couldn't help but create an alternate landscape in my own life.
LAHIRISo, even though I didn't really ever live there, and only visited there, it became a part of, a part of me in some way. And it was a very disconcerting, to a certain degree, to grow up here and to have the consciousness of another reality, that seemed so extremely distant. And I think because I never lived there, because it is not my country, in some sense, it felt even more remote. And so I was always struggling to make that very remote place more present somehow.
REHMAnd you do so through the intimate connection between these two brothers. Talk about who they are.
LAHIRIWell, they're two brothers who are very close in age and very connected, who really share a life, as so many siblings of close in age, and especially of the same gender often do.
REHM15 months apart.
LAHIRIYes. Two boys. 15 months apart. And I began, when I began working with them, I wanted to distinguish them as individuals and sort of play one against, off the other, to create an interesting dynamic between them. And to explore, explore that sibling relationship. They are so unique, and I think, as a mother now of two children, I think a lot about the way in which siblings really do share a life for a certain time.
LAHIRIThey share their day to day reality. They share the same everything. The same sky, the same moon, the same day, the same night. I mean, they have, they share a life. And then, at a certain point, that ends, and they separate. And I think this is a natural process, but also quite heartbreaking, in some way.
REHMAnd what's lovely is that if a parent is lucky later on, they come back together. Jhumpa Lahiri and her new book, her novel, "The Lowland." We'll take a short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Jhumpa Lahiri is with me, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. And now her new novel "The Lowland" has been nominated for the Man Booker Award, perhaps the most distinguished award that Great Britain offers. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a Tweet. Before the break you were talking about the two brothers who Diane and Subhash -- I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly...
REHM...and they're 15 months apart, born during World War II, very, very close, as you said, as youngsters. But then they begin to grow apart. Subhash moves to the United States. Why does he do that?
LAHIRIWell, he's the introvert and he's, you know, drawn to nature and has a sort of interior life and intellectual pursuits. And I think he is drawn to those things, you know, just intellectually but also because of what's happening in Calcutta as these brothers are becoming adults, coming of age, because of the unrest, because of the turmoil that he's witnessing. His natural instinct, I feel, is to retreat and to seek something beyond that and to go elsewhere.
REHMAnd whereas Udayan...
LAHIRIWhereas Udayan is a much more sort of outwardly passionate person and very invested in the problems that his country is facing, and throws himself into what he perceives is the necessary struggle of his time to carry his country forward. These brothers come of age in post independence India, a period of great difficulty and crisis, a period in which India is very much trying to find its sea legs and move forward.
LAHIRIAnd it's these problems that create, among other things, movements like the Naxalite Movement, which is a movement dedicated to, among other things, you know, giving India greater independence from what they perceive as colonial and post-colonial influences and power, you know, eradicating poverty, carrying the country forward. These were the things they were -- they believed in. And Udayan is someone who identifies deeply and believes in the necessity to pursue this path.
REHMAnd what is daily life like for Udayan?
LAHIRIWell, for both of the brothers, daily life is relatively hard. I mean, they grow up in a middle class neighborhood. They are living cheek by jowl with a massive refugee community that arrives in Calcutta after a partition and the years following partition from what is now Bangladesh. They see this. They grow up with this. They are not themselves refugees. They have a home. They have a roof over their heads. Their father is a civil servant. You know, their mother makes some money tailoring clothes.
LAHIRISo, you know, they have a decent enough life but they don't come from privilege. They have to -- they go to an ordinary school. Their only opportunity is education. But of course in those years the Indian education system was also in crisis and turmoil. There was just a lot of unrest socially across the spectrum.
REHMSo what is it about this Maoist movement that so appeals and so draws Udayan in?
LAHIRIWell, I imagine he and so many like him believed that it was the solution to take India forward to really shed the final vestiges of colonialism and American influence and even Russian influence at the time. I mean, they thought of the Soviet Union America as the sort of enemies. And that China was the key and that the model of China and what had happened in China was the key for India. And this was -- of course turned out to be a flawed model and that the movement was not a success, rather a disaster.
LAHIRIBut this was what nevertheless inspired people like Udayan to become involved and to commit themselves to the movement...
REHMWhereas Subhash moves to the United States and moves to Rhode Island. What is his life like?
LAHIRIIn Rhode Island I think he finds freedom in a lot of ways from the -- I mean, he feels freedom from his brother's shadow. He's the older one but he feels under his brother's shadow. He feels eclipsed by his more charismatic brother, his more daring brother. His decision to go to America, I feel, is in some sense his own rebellion. I mean, Udayan is sort of overtly, outwardly rebellious. He's political, he's angry, he's fighting for so many things, for justice, for a better society and so on.
LAHIRISubhash seemingly is more indifferent and also more aloof I would say, and also more obedient. And yet, he is the one who betrays his family in a certain sense by leaving and not coming back. And in another sense betraying his country. I mean, Udayan feels that the call to arms, you know, this movement is something that is -- that everyone in their generation is -- you know, should be listening to this, should be reacting.
LAHIRIAnd when Subhash doesn't react, when he goes the other way, when he turns the other cheek and he moves out of that whole reality, that is the moment in which these brothers are separated, sundered both literally and emotionally.
REHMI certainly don't want to give a great deal of the plot away because it's just fascinating, but I want to skip forward to the fact that at one point Udayan marries. He marries a woman whose name is Gauri.
REHMShe's not a very conventional character and she has a great deal of difficulty loving her own child. There's a portion in the book where you talk about that inability to be with that child on a mother-like level. Would you read from that section for us?
LAHIRISure. "One afternoon Bella was occupied with a pair of scissors, a book of paper dolls. It was July. Bella's school closed for the long vacation. The campus was at rest. Subhash was teaching summer courses in Providence spending the rest of his time in a lab in Narragansett. Gauri spent her days with Bella without a car in which they might go anywhere without a break. Gauri sat with her own book beside her, Spinoza's "Ethics" trying to read a section to its end. But something was beginning to change. It was becoming possible to read a book and to be with Bella at the same time, possible to be together engaged in separate ways.
LAHIRIThe television was turned off, the apartment quiet apart from the intermittent sound of Bella's scissors slowly slicing through thick pieces of paper. Going to the kitchen to make tea Gauri saw that they were out of milk. She returned to the living room. She saw the back of Bella's neck bent over her task. She was talking to herself, carrying on a dialogue in different voices between the paper dolls.
LAHIRIPut on your shoes, Bella. Why? Let's go out. I'm busy, she said, sounding suddenly like a girl of 12 instead of 6, as if with a snip of her scissors she had sliced away the need for Gauri, eliminating her. The idea presented itself. The store was just behind the apartment complex, a two-minute walk. She could see it through the kitchen window past the dumpster and the soda machine and the cars parked in back. I'm just going down to get the mail. Without stopping to think things through, she went out locking the door, down the steps, cutting across the parking lot into the hot leafy day.
LAHIRIShe was running more than walking. Her feet were light. In the store she felt like a criminal worried that the elderly man standing behind the register, always kind to Bella, thought Gauri was stealing the milk she'd come to buy. Where's your daughter today? With a friend. He smiled and handed her a piece of peppermint candy from the little bowl by the register. Tell her it's from me. Quickly but carefully she counted out her change. The transaction overwhelmed her as it used to when she'd first come here. She remembered to say thank you. She threw out the candy before she got to the apartment building, hiding the milk in her tote bag.
LAHIRIThe following day she set Bella up at the coffee table in front of the television. She considered every detail, a glass of water in case she was thirsty, a generous plate of biscuits and grapes, extra pencils in case the tip of the one she was drawing with happened to snap, half an hour's careful preparation to allow for five minutes away. The five minutes doubled to ten, sometimes a bit more, 15 minutes to be alone to clear her head. It was time to run across the quadrangle to the library to return a book, a simple errand she could have done at any time but that she was determined to accomplish at that moment.
LAHIRITime to go to the post office and send a letter requesting an application for one of the doctoral programs (word?) had suggested she look into. Time to speculate that without Bella or Subhash, her life might be a different thing. It turned into a dare, a puzzle to solve to keep herself sharp. A private race she felt compelled to run again and again, convinced if she stopped that her ability to perform that feat would be lost. Before stepping out she checked that the stove was turned off, the windows shut, the knives placed out of reach, not that Bella was that sort of child.
LAHIRISo it began in the afternoons. Not every afternoon but often enough, too often disoriented by the sense of freedom devouring the sensation as a beggar devours food. Sometimes she simply walked to the store and back without buying anything. Sometimes she really did get the mail or sat on a bench on campus and sorted through it. Or she went over to the student union to get a copy of the campus paper. Then back inside, rushing up the flight of stairs, at once triumphant and appalled at herself, she unlocked the door where Bella would be just as she'd left her, never suspecting, never asking where she'd been.
LAHIRIThen one day that summer Subhash came home earlier than usual, intending to take advantage of the last of the warm weather and take Bella to the beach. He found Bella concealed beneath one of the tends she sometimes made by removing the blankets from her bed, draping them over the sofa and the coffee table in the living room. She was content within this structure playing on her own. She told him that her mother had gone to get the mail but Gauri wasn't at the bottom of the stairs. Subhash knew that having just retrieved the mail and come up the stairs himself.
LAHIRITen minutes later Gauri returned with a newspaper. She hadn't noticed Subhash's car in the parking lot. Because he hadn't called to say he was leaving early there was no reason to think he was already home. There she is, Bella said, when she walked through the door. See, I told you. She always comes back. But it took Subhash, who was standing at the window, his back to the room, several minutes before he turned around."
REHMJhumpa Lahiri reading from her new book, "The Lowland: A Novel." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." That was just a vivid portrait of a woman beside herself with frustration and with longing for something that she no longer had, freedom.
LAHIRIYes. I mean, I felt in crating her character that she would be someone who tragically would not be able to connect to her child and to find fulfillment as a mother. And perhaps as a deeply fulfilled mother myself, I found this -- the possibility of this so very tragic. I think I wouldn't have been able to imagine her character not having found this personal fulfillment as a mother.
REHMIt brought tears to my eyes as I read through that passage because I imagined that there are probably many people, unlike yourself, who do not feel fulfilled, who need something more. And I think you expressed it so well. We have a number of callers. I do want to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Indira in Cleveland, Ohio. You're on the air, Indira. Go right ahead. Indira, are you there? Oh dear. Indira, are you there?
INDIRAYes, I am.
REHMGo right ahead, please. Indira, please turn your radio off and go right ahead.
INDIRAOkay. Hi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
INDIRAI'm (unintelligible) college from 1964 to '69. So this book is right, you know, so close to my heart. And I haven't read the book yet. I read only what came out in the New Yorker. And I was waiting for the book, I mean, lots of my friends we're (word?) . And, you know, after that, I wasn't directly involved in Naxalite but, well, a lot of my friends were. And then I again came to New York and I'm living in this country for last 40 years. So there are so many similarities that I'm really, really looking forward to reading your book.
REHMOh, I'm so glad. Well, I thank you for calling, Indira. I'm sure there are many people like her, Jhumpa, who not only perhaps lived through that era but certainly knew of it.
LAHIRIAbsolutely. And I think in, you know, researching the book and educating myself, I spoke -- I was able to speak to so many people for whom this remains a very recent history.
REHMAll right. Short break here and when we come back, more of your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Many callers, many emails, we'll try to get to as many as we can. From Katherine in Virginia, an email, "I'm interested in Ms. Lahiri's research process for the book. She sounds very knowledgeable about the history surrounding these events. What kind of research did she do to make this book historically accurate? And how long did it take?
LAHIRIVery good question. Well, I started, you know, I started by asking my father who wasn't there at the time. He was here in the United States. Because it happened in his neighborhood, I asked him what he knew, what he had heard. And he told me what he -- what he knew about this particular event. I then asked him, because he is a university librarian, to give me a couple of books. I said, can you please check out a couple of books for me so I can start reading about it? And so he did. He checked out two books for me. And I believe I returned them to him, I don't know, 16 years later. Being a librarian has its privileges as you can see, because he...
LAHIRI...he kept renewing them.
LAHIRIAnd every few years he would say, Jhumpa, those two books I gave you...
LAHIRI...you still have them, right?
REHMWhere are they?
LAHIRII said, yes, yes, I still have them. You know, the funny thing is -- so I started by reading some books and taking notes, trying to take in what had happened, why it had happened, the ideology of this movement, the historical context, et cetera. What I found for many years, however, was that though I was filling up my notebooks with lots of dates, lots of facts, it wasn't penetrating. It wasn't penetrating in the way I needed to penetrate in order to create a story. But it had a sort of slow accumulative effect I suppose, because I began to familiarize myself with certain key events, certain names, certain dates, forming a sort of imaginary version of it in my head.
LAHIRIWhat then I began to add to my education, my understanding, there are a few things. I tried to talk to as many people as I could, again, because this is something that happened fairly recently, we're talking 40 or so years ago. You know, my parents have many friends who arrived in America a bit, you know, a decade or so after they did, so people who were still going to university in Calcutta during this period and witnessed the unrest, lived with the curfews, the violence, and so on. So I would talk to them about what it was like to live there.
LAHIRIWhen I would go back to Calcutta, you know, I would listen to people remembering those years. In addition, I began to, you know, this is a period, this is a movement, this is a moment in the history of Calcutta that has been, you know, there have been so many novels, so much poetry, film, sort of reacting to, reflecting this moment, so...
REHMHow widespread did it become in Calcutta?
LAHIRII think there were a few years when you couldn't live in the city without, you know, having this effect, your...
LAHIRI...your day to day...
LAHIRI...I mean, it was just a situation bordering on a civil war in a city.
REHMSo how did it affect the ordinary person who perhaps was not involved in their movement?
LAHIRII think an ordinary person not involved in the movement would have been -- would have known someone who was, who would've known a family whose children, whose sons or daughters were involved. Everybody was nervous. Everybody was scared. They were...
REHMOr scared how?
LAHIRI...there was -- there was sort of two phases from what I can understand. I mean, there was a period in which the Naxalites themselves, you know, they went underground, they were outlawed as a party, they went underground and they began to -- they began to set off bombs. They would begin to, you know, kill people. There were assassinations. There was real day to day violence. It went beyond sort of protesting and defacing buildings and taking down statues and sort of fighting against the fight.
REHMAs much destruction as possible.
LAHIRIRight. So there was -- there was a sort of symbolic phase in which they were, you know, they were attacking buildings, defacing things, you know, destroying statues and so forth. And then the violence turned more calculated and literal and people were being killed.
REHMTo try to rid the...
REHM...country of those who disagreed.
LAHIRIAnd to -- I mean they were trying to overthrow the government, right...
LAHIRI...so they're trying to get rid of people who symbolized that authority. And eventually the city was more or less, you know, demarcated neighborhood by neighborhood, you know, in terms of a Naxalite stronghold or not. There were parts of the neighborhood, sections, I'm sorry, of the city where the Naxalites were very much in control. And so in those neighborhoods, you know, there were people who were nervous to enter those neighborhoods if they weren't sympathetic to the party.
REHMWhat do you compare this movement to in other parts of the world?
LAHIRIWell, you know, in fact, I spoke a lot with my -- to my husband who grew up in Guatemala in the 1970s as a child. He left Guatemala when he was 16 in 1977, I believe. And so for him it was his day to day reality. He was...
LAHIRIIn Guatemala City. He was witnessing this. He was -- he was a kid. He had friends in school whose parents were being kidnapped, whose parents were being killed.
LAHIRII talked to him a lot just to get a sense of what is this -- what is this reality like, because I grew up in a tiny sheltered academic town in Rhode Island and had absolutely no clue in terms of how this -- what this really means on the (word?) level. So I found conversations with him very helpful. Obviously the context is different, the place is different, everything is different, but I wanted to understand, I wanted to get inside of, you know, of that sort of situation. And that's why the history books, it was only after many, many years that those two books that my father loaned me from the library began to, you know, the personal...
REHMReally, really penetrate.
LAHIRI...and the historical, once they began to intersect...
LAHIRI...that's when I knew I was able to take the book somewhere, you know.
REHMAll right. To Padma who's in Jacksonville, Fla., you're on the air.
PADMAHi. Happy Wednesday to Jhumpa and to Diane. Diane, you do not know how beyond excited I am.
REHMOh, thank you.
PADMAIt's the second time in this year, so I'm just beyond excited just to even hear and talk to you directly. Jhumpa, my sister is just a ginormous fan of your writing, your books. And I ordered this book because I think it came out on September 24, preordered it, sent it to California where my sister and my mother was visiting. So guess what happened? My mother, 81-year-old mother, whose name is Indida, and who was the first caller. For a moment I thought, oh, my gosh, is mom calling in to talk directly to Jhumpa? And, no, I twas not because was a lady from Cleveland, but...
PADMA...just to let you know, my mother had already started telling me about Subhash and Udayan and all of this. And I thought, oh, and the passage that you read, Diane was right, it was so vivid. It just moved me to tears. And I just wanted to thank you for just bringing it all home to us.
LAHIRIThank you so much. You're very kind.
REHMI'm glad you called. And let's go to John who's in Orlando, Fla. Hi there, you're on the air.
JOHNHi, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call.
JOHNAnd hello to Jhumpa. Jhumpa, you and I received Pulitzers together in 2000.
JOHNAnd I remember it as if it were yesterday. We even sat at the same table. And I wanted to...
LAHIRINice to hear from you.
JOHNGood to talk to you. I just wanted to congratulate you for amassing such a impressive body of work over the years. And after hearing the passage you just read, I'm looking forward to reading the book.
LAHIRIThank you so much. All my best to you.
REHMJohn, and congratulations to you...
REHM...on the Pulitzer. Thanks for calling. And here is a question, an email, "Has your preferred writing approach or style changed from the first collection of stories that won you the Pulitzer?"
LAHIRIHas my approach changed? I don't think so. I mean, I'm still trying to do now what I was trying to do then, which is tell a decent story and build something stable and reasonable. That's really how I approach it.
REHMAnd a last email, "When does an immigrant, since you write about immigrant experiences, really like not an immigrant anymore? Is one an immigrant forever?"
LAHIRIWell, I can't speak for others, but I imagine that the -- that one is always conscious of the place left behind, whether that is left behind by choice or whether one has to leave against one's will, or whatever the circumstances of leaving a place may be. I can't imagine anybody not being aware of the place left behind in some way. And as you and I were speaking, Diane, during the break, even for those who are raised by people...
LAHIRI...who leave their country, that more interior division remains for life. I will never be able to feel fully American or Indian. It will always -- I will always see myself in some sort of in-between zone in which I'm a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but never anything satisfactorily and fully.
REHMAnd how do you think your children feel considering the fact that you married someone from Guatemala, you now live in Italy? I mean, it's a very international kind of setting and set of relationships.
LAHIRIIt's interesting. I mean, I think with the third generation, this process sort of turns a corner. I don't know if you would agree with me. But my children feel -- my children were both born in New York City, which is perhaps the most welcoming place in the universe, in which everyone is allowed to become a New Yorker, and it's not questioned. And so they feel -- they feel like New Yorkers, which is beautiful and I love that they have that feeling, because I never had it. I never felt that I could call myself anything. And I think it is important to be able to say, you know, I am from a place. Though, it has aided me, I imagine, as a writer to exist in the margins of -- always in the margins of something.
LAHIRIAs a person, it has -- it has been difficult. It has caused me a great deal of confusion. However, I think to their credit, though they identify themselves very strongly not only as New Yorkers, but as Brookline-ites at this point, they are aware that, you know, their father speaks Spanish, their mother speaks Spangoli (sp?) at home. They have grandparents from India. They have another grandfather who came from -- originally from Greece. When we visited Greece last year, my son was very moved to go to the archeological museum in Greece and to -- and he felt -- he felt that he was a part of all of these places. And that's a lovely...
LAHIRI...lovely thing, I imagine, for a child.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But you said you felt and still feel a certain confusion, but that perhaps that contributes to the magic of your writing.
LAHIRII think that as my desire to write became more clear and as my -- as my identity as a writer solidified, it became the only necessary identity for me. And now I feel that I am writer. I am able to call myself a writer. I believe in myself as a writer. Though, being a writer means living with doubt all the time and doubting one's self and one's abilities. However, I feel that that is what I do, that is what I aspire to do. And now that I have that, but that has come to me relatively recently. I mean, it really started when I was 30 years old. So for most of my life I was lacking in any sort of stable identity.
LAHIRIBut now I feel as a writer that the rest of it is irrelevant because I feel rooted in what I do. And I feel rooted also by my children and the fact that I'm a mother. And my work -- my creative work and my work as a mother are the two things that stabilized me in a way that nothing else has ever stabilized me. And so my home can travel as long as, you know, I have my family, I have my writing desk, and that is a wonderfully liberating place to arrive after all of those years of confusion.
REHMAnd what does the nomination for the Man Booker award mean to you as a writer?
LAHIRIYou know, it's an interesting feeling, but I will try to describe. I mean, I really feel that when I am finished with a book, I sever my tie to it. I have to in order to write something else. And I don't feel associated with it anymore. I try -- I do have to sort of turn my back on it. And so the nomination is -- it's an enormous honor, but I feel that now the book has an independent life, it's published, I am here talking about it, people are reading it, people can buy it. I feel that the book has -- it now must stand and walk away on its own. And I must walk away from it.
LAHIRISo the nomination is overwhelming, but I feel that every recognition I have been fortunate enough to receive in my life belongs to the books that I've created and not to me as a person, as a writer. I don't think serve me as a writer because I feel that my writing must necessarily come from a place in which I feel unrecognized, if that makes sense, in which I feel very alone and very kind of anonymous.
REHM"The Lowland," a novel, Jhumpa Lahiri, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest novel has been nominated for the Man Booker award. Congratulations to you, Jhumpa Lahiri. Good luck to you.
REHMAnd thank you for being here.
LAHIRIThank you. It was such a pleasure, Diane. Thank you.
REHMMy pleasure. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Diane talks with Rick Hasen, a law professor and expert on election administration. His new book is "Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy."
Diane talks to McKay Coppins of The Atlantic about President Trump’s use of disinformation as the 2020 presidential campaign gets underway.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, talks about how the country is preparing.