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First Look: Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

First Look: Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

Exuberance and dread, attachment and estrangement: in this novel, Jhumpa Lahiri stretches her themes to the limit. Lahiri’s narrator, a woman questioning her place in the world, wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and the refusal to form lasting ties. The city she calls home acts as a companion and interlocutor: traversing the streets around her house, and in parks, piazzas, museums, stores, and coffee bars, she feels less alone. 

This is the first novel Lahiri has written in Italian and translated into English. The reader will find the qualities that make Lahiri’s work so beloved: deep intelligence and feeling, richly textured physical and emotional landscapes, and a poetics of dislocation. But Whereabouts, brimming with the impulse to cross barriers, also signals a bold shift of style and sensibility. By grafting herself onto a new literary language, Lahiri has pushed herself to a new level of artistic achievement.

Read our reviewers' thoughts below.


Jean says: [Whereabouts is] less a traditional novel than a series of fragmented vignettes of a young woman’s life, taking place over a year in a beautiful but unnamed Italian city. She takes us to the places she frequents—the university where she teaches, her favorite museum that’s almost always empty, a trattoria close to her home, the supermarket, the neighborhood pool. 

Dan says: The book reads like vignettes in the life of the unnamed middle-aged narrator showing her whereabouts—on the sidewalk, in the bookstore, in the hotel, and even in her head. [...] She narrates what she observes and thinks about the people she meets at the bar or on the train, imagines their lives, their quirks, and their heartaches.


Less is more

Jean says: She observes strangers with a sharp eye, and holds everything and everyone—friends, colleagues, even her own inner self—at arm’s length. Lahiri’s sparse, minimal writing acts much the same way, keeping you at bay, never letting you get too close.

Dan says: Despite the economy in words, the prose is poetic and reflective. [...] Her masterful skill in observing life and translating it to the pages of her story is remarkable. Her control makes the story flourish for what is written and what is left for the reader to infer.


What lies at the end

Jean says: It makes no attempt to conceal the unease and unhappiness below the surface; instead letting the narrator delicately peel back the layers herself, finally revealing the depth of her own isolation and the root of her restlessness. Though perhaps short stories remain Lahiri’s strong suit, Whereabouts is a slight, subtle read that showcases her insightful and compassionate prose.

Dan says: Here, in a novel, that is almost plotless, she has carved an intimate portrait of a woman navigating her place, her whereabouts, in the world and its weighty expectations. [...] The story never peaks. Instead, it simmers with an aching longing to live, to make sense of the years behind and the years ahead. [...] And in her telling, she weaves the past and the present into a beautiful tapestry of a solitary life.

Jean has, at different points in her life, worked in government, interviewed international celebrities, and been the social media manager for several brands.

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Dan has written on Wattpad, yellowpads, and notepads. He works as a Systems Administrator by day and a recluse at night. 
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[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the reviewers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our reviewers anyway.]

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