Jhumpa Lahiri: The Quiet Laureate

How did Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, a book of short stories about Bengali immigrants, become a No. 1 best seller? She has no idea either

Bill Wadman

Portrait of Jhumpa Lahiri, author of the Unaccustomed Earth.

Among the things you will not find in Jhumpa Lahiri's fiction are: humor, suspense, cleverness, profound observations about life, vocabulary above the 10th-grade level, footnotes and typographical experiments. It is debatable whether her keyboard even has an exclamation point on it.

In person, Lahiri is almost as reserved as she is on the page. She is tall and slender and stands very straight, with a silk scarf tied around her neck, much too elegant for the chain coffee shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she is being interviewed. Lahiri speaks quietly and deliberately, vouchsafing only the occasional smile. She orders nothing.

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