Quaint and antique, the cry for love of country that Sir Walter Scott made in his poem “The Lay of the Last Minstrel” is something schoolchildren quit memorizing a century ago. Its stirring theme rouses a patriot’s yearning: “Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, / Who never to himself hath said, / This is my own, my native land!”
It’s easy to forget, given the sensitivities that have been awakened in this country since 9/11, thrusting lifelong citizens under suspicion for having foreign-sounding names and subjecting visitors to the indignity of being fingerprinted, that America was conceived in a spirit of openness, as a land where people could build new identities, grounded in the present and the future, not the past. This dream, despite current fears, has in great part been made real. And the fact that America is still a place where the rest of the world comes to reinvent itself — accepting with excitement and anxiety the necessity of leaving behind the constrictions and comforts of distant customs — is the underlying theme of Jhumpa Lahiri’s sensitive new collection of stories, “Unaccustomed Earth.”
more from the NYT Book Review here.