‘Hell-Heaven’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

She is such an important short story writer, really very dexterous and able with a few strokes to make a story feel perfectly polished and neat. Yet this was one of the first and few stories in first person, told by a narrator looking back in time, that I think I read of hers (it came out in the New Yorker before being included in the book, and I was immediately moved and affected by it). I love the way Jhumpa Lahiri can convey pain and suffering beneath surface elegance – the woman wearing a lilac raincoat (chic, carefully chosen, belted and fitted of course) while standing in her backyard about to immolate herself. The story also offers such an honest and unsparing look at some of the dynamics of pseudo-family, community as family, immigration as a bond. That felt really new at the time though I think a lot of writers since have taken this in different directions.

First published in The New Yorker, May 24, 2004, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in Unaccustomed Earth, Knopf/Bloomsbury, 2009

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