For this week’s Short Story Sunday, I’ll be taking a look at “Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri, from her short story collection of the same name.
In “Unaccustomed Earth” we meet Ruma, a young mother living in Seattle with her three-year-old son Akash and husband, Adam, who travels frequently for work. We learn that Ruma’s mother died several years early from anaphylactic shock during an operation. Since then, Ruma’s retired father has taken it upon himself to do the traveling his wife always wanted to do, spending weeks at a time in various European countries and sending postcards to Ruma along the way.
When he declares that he will be visiting Ruma over the summer, she grows concerned about the visit, thinking that he expects her to offer to have him move in with her and Adam. Ever since her mother’s death, Adam has told her, she hasn’t seemed happy in their relationship despite the fact that he’s done everything in his power to keep her comfortable and give her everything she needs; a home, a family, a second baby on the way, and the ability to be a stay-at-home parent. But Ruma has been struggling with her son, Akash, who has been defiant and difficult ever since they moved from Brooklyn to Seattle. The thought of adding her father to the mix and having to take care of him, too, seems daunting.
To Ruma’s surprise, her father has no intention of moving in with them. Ruma reminds him so much of his late wife and their loveless marriage. All he wants to do during his week-long stay in Seattle is spend time with his grandson Akash, assist Ruma with taking care of him, and cultivate a garden for them in their backyard. As he does this, Akash changes right before Ruma’s eyes. Her home begins to feel more familiar than ever before. And, for the first time, she’s learning things about her father’s personality she never knew before.
I have always loved this short story ever since I first read it. It’s very poignant and sad but there’s also a sense of hopefulness. “Unaccustomed Earth” is a particularly moving story, and I purposely left out most of the details here in case anyone happens to want to read it on their own. I’d highly recommend anything by Jhumpa Lahiri if you’re looking for some short stories to read.