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Teller of Tales

In her spare and yet lyrical writing, Pulitzer Prize-winning bestselling writer Jhumpa Lahiri tells intimate stories of immigrants in America. Critics say her stories of immigrant angst, family bonds, betrayals and redemption require no atlas or detailed narration of the backgrounds of her characters. They engage and stir readers across the globe because they are intriguing and, at the same time, also look at the losses and gains immigrants make when they move from one society to another.

"I thought I wouldn't make it as a writer, and hoped to at least become an art historian," she says. But when she attended a writer's workshop, she discovered she could indeed write -- and write exceedingly well. She has since taught creative writing at Boston University, her alma mater.

"I have inherited a sense of that loss from my parents because
in her words
'My sense is that for many immigrants it's like a death and a rebirth to leave your native country and come to another world -- especially one that's so different...'
Photo: Scott Gries /
Getty Images
it was so palpable all the time while I was growing up," says London-born Lahiri who has spent over three decades in America, winning a Pulitzer in 2000 for her first published work, Interpreter of Maladies.

She also acquired from her parents, "the sense of what many parents had sacrificed moving to America, and yet at the same time, building a life here (like the immigrant couple in her novel The Namesake) and all that entailed."

A very private person, Lahiri quietly encourages new writers. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two young children. Bengali culture is important to her, her parents say. "When she goes to India and speaks Bengali, hardly anyone can say she was born abroad and has lived here for most of her life," says her mother.

With the popularity of the film, the novel The Namesake is again on many bestseller lists. The film is the best gift director Mira Nair could have given her, says the writer.

Ultimately, what makes Jhumpa Lahiri a writer of such importance is her ability to empathise with the immigrant's song. Having lived it herself, she has a way of taking disparate stories of people torn apart by two cultures, and weaving them into tales that charm, delight, and help make real this complicated, yet life-affirming, experience.