Roman Stories

Roman Stories

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Susan Midalia's Review

 

Admirers of American-Indian writer Jhumpa Lahiri’s fiction will, like me, marvel at her new short story collection. It’s one of several books Lahiri has written in Italian, a language she acquired as an intellectual challenge and an aesthetic pleasure; most of the stories she then translated into English.

 

As the book’s title suggests, Roman Stories explores Lahiri’s fascination with the ancient, so-called eternal city.  But the Rome of this collection is rapidly changing rather than eternal: its migrant population is a source of hostility or resentment, the population is increasingly transient, and generational differences mar the traditional stability of the family. Rome is a place of contradictions:  of vitality and squalor, privilege and poverty, cultural sophistication and xenophobia. And while the stories effectively cohere as a novel about contemporary Rome, they are also universal in their exploration of longing, loneliness, friendship and a desire for completion.

 

Lahiri also writes from many different perspectives, all of them convincingly rendered: a despised Muslim refugee, a jaded married man, a cleaning lady, a seamstress, professional women, and in the final and profoundly moving story ‘Dante Alighieri’, a wife and mother who looks back on the disappointments and consolations of middle-age. The writing throughout is subtle, and often tinged with regret; and like the best short story writers, Jahiri uses resonant details, a sense of irresolution and the pathos of ‘the unsaid’ to create the illusion of a much bigger world beyond the relatively few words on the page.

 

Highly recommended for short story lovers and for readers who appreciate the skill with which unembellished language can conjure complex and highly engaging worlds.