My first read of 2022 is the book that felt like it was written specifically for me by one of my literary heroes, Jhumpa Lahiri. “Whereabouts” is her first novel written in Italian and translated in English by herself.
I spent the first round of lockdown reading all of Lahiri’s works and interviews. I am an official Lahiri stan as the internet would say. When I found out that she moved to Italy to officially write in Italian I was exhilarated. Italy is my dream retirement country. I have spent many of my days imagining my 45-year-old self frolicking around the busy streets of Rome or drinking wine under the Tuscan sun.
Lahiri mentioned in her other book, “In Other Words”, that she was struggling to write in Italian. Thus, I did not have any expectations coming in, but she did not disappoint. This may be unlike her other works when it comes to style and subject (it seem like a Rachel Cusk novel) but it still has the photographic writing that made me fall in love with her craft.
It is a slender novel composed of 46 short chapters, or entries, sequenced over the course of a year by a late 40s literature professor. The novel has captured the ever swinging pendulum of solitude: the joy of not having to cater to other people’s needs and having all the time in the world to do your own little rituals; and on the other end the loneliness that will struck you from time to time and the perpetual longing.
If you are like me, accustomed to your own sovereignty, loves observing people from a distance and appalled by them when they get too near, you will find this book very relatable. I would not say it is comforting but I dare say it is affirming. I believe the title “Whereabouts” pertains to her place in this world both geographical and emotional. Perhaps she is still looking for it. Perhaps it is “Nowhere”, just like one of the chapter titles I always go back to.
I feel like I have projected so much of my own situation and feelings in this tiny book, hence, this review is more affective than objective. It is a good book for me to start a year that will probably be just spent in being anxious about my future and my place in this world.
Author’s note: I wrote this review on the second day of January on a train to Armidale, NSW. My cup is overrunning with hope and sprinkled with fear on top. I went on writing a hiatus for half a year. Life has been hectic. But now I am back and ready to to read and write again.