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Jhumpa Lahiri No.1 on NYT best-seller list

April 11, 2008 21:02 IST

With most major American newspapers and magazines hailing Jhumpa Lahiri's second story collection Unaccustomed Earth as a terrific and soul-moving reading, there were natural expectations that it would be a bestseller.

But not even the industry veterans had expected the book, published by Knopf -- a division of Random House, to zoom to number one on The New York Times best-seller list.

As Lahiri's literary book reached the top in just about two weeks after its publication, it tore past big best-sellers by thriller writers such as James Patterson and John Grisham.

Click here to buy Jhumpa Lahiri's new book on Rediff Books!

She becomes the only second writer of Indian origin to land at the top slot; the other is Salman Rushdie. In its fourth printing, Unaccustomed Earth could spend more than three months on the list. It could even sell one million copies in hardcover, setting a record for the writer.

She already has over one million copies of her previous books in print

This is the first time that Knopf, which publishes some of the most distinguished American writers, including John Updike and Nobel laureates such as Orhan Pamuk and VS Naipaul, has published her work.

The book follows her Pulitzer Prize winner The Interpreter of Maladies, and her equally acclaimed The Namesake. Its stories touch facets of immigrant experiences. In one of its most touching and terrifying pieces, a sister who had helped her younger brother enjoy alcohol clandestinely, is rattled when his addiction threatens her family, including a baby girl.

It is not usual for literary fiction to be at the top of the list. Though her previous books were on the bestsellers lists for several weeks, they never started at the top.

'There are not a lot of surprises, week in and week out, at the upper reaches of the Times fiction bestseller list,' wrote The New York Times blogger, Dwight Garner. 'But occasionally a comet lands and flattens the forest, sending the usual critters running.'

'It is hard to remember the last genuinely serious, well-written work of fiction -- particularly a book of stories -- that leapt straight to No 1; it is a powerful demonstration of Lahiri's newfound commercial clout,' Garner wrote.

When and India Abroad interviewed Lahiri a few weeks ago, she repeated what she had told several other publications; that she hardly reads the reviews.

The Atlantic Monthly had asked her about the reviews, too.

'I feel like I should be more hardened at this point, but in a way I feel more vulnerable. With this book I decided not to look at anything at all,' she said.

'Perhaps in the future I'll ask my editor or someone to show me a few (reviews) that she thinks could really benefit me somehow.'

When the Times comes in the morning, did she ever take a glance to see whether a review is in there?

'Actually, my husband gets the paper on Saturday morning and tosses out the book-review section. So I don't see it,' she had said.

'He has been doing that for a few weeks now. It's hard to live in New York City sometimes.'

But surely someone must have told Lahiri that she had received a rave review on the cover of The New York Times two weeks ago. And that must have also helped the book to shoot to the very top of the list.

Arthur J Pais