‘Once in a Lifetime’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

Like Keegan’s work, Lahiri’s elegant prose often describes the chasm that exists between parents and children and between men and women. Her stories frequently examine this disconnect as it occurs among Bengali parents and their Bengali-American offspring. The span of her inter-generational stories and the sense they convey of this chasm of understanding is pure heartbreak. I find the attention she brings to bodies in relation to one another and in relation to space very moving and her use of physical detail (the way a spray of perfume temporarily darkens the narrator’s clothing at the beginning of this story, for example) is extremely evocative. There’s a beautiful coda to ‘Once in a Lifetime’ in the final story in this collection. 

First published in The New Yorker in April, 2006, and available online here. Collected in Unaccustomed Earth, Bloomsbury, 2008

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