In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri – a Pulitzer prize winner gives up writing and speaking in English

Tessa Hadley in The Guardian:

JhumpaThere really are problems with winning the Pulitzer prize for your first book: as Jhumpa Lahiri, pictured, did, for Interpreter of Maladies. You are a shy, self-doubting young woman, daughter of Bengali immigrants to America. Your father is a university librarian on the east coast. You have always been anxious that you can’t deliver a satisfactory account of yourself, either in your Bengali-speaking home or in anglophone America outside it. In your childhood, making up stories seemed innocent and free, an escape; but as you grew up you learned that fiction was fraught with the same old doubt. Whose stories; and for what audience? Writing seems to you from the beginning “a private form of consolation”; yet in 2000 you are precipitated into the public eye, winning the prize for a book of short stories whose primary characteristic is their tentativeness, their withholding of judgment, their subdued emotional weather. Nonetheless, everything you write from now on will come under a new, intensive, invasive level of scrutiny. And because, inevitably, your material is drawn from the immigrant experience of your family, you will find an Indian audience too – naturally suspicious of those diaspora-Indian writers praised to the skies in the west. You become answerable to so many different and competing interested parties, on a scale disproportionate to any truth claims you have actually made inside your work. And yet, because your sensibility is fine-tuned, you appreciate conscientiously that all writing does make some kind of truth claim, and is always answerable.

Ideally, a delicate writing talent such as Lahiri’s should have been grown more slowly, putting up its shoots in a quiet half-light of reasonable encouragement. But there we are, there are probably worse things than winning the Pulitzer prize – and her talent has, in the event, developed robustly, even in the glare of an excess of attention (and, who knows, perhaps because of it). Her last novel, The Lowland, a mournful Turgenevian take on the politics of her parents’ generation in Bengal, was beautiful and subtly intelligent, and with a new bold reach. I suspect, however, that the particular difficulty Lahiri had finding her path as a writer has taken its toll, and that her new book is partly a consequence of that.

More here.