Cover Image: Whereabouts

Whereabouts

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"Why does it take me so long to get out of the house this morning? What bewilders me, even here at home? I'm finding it harder and harder to get up and do things right away: react, move, concentrate."

I thought this was an absolutely beautiful novel. It is impeccably written, with so many beautifully stark and emotionally perceptive sentences, infused with a deep melancholy. The themes - loneliness, dissatisfaction, isolation, growing old - really rang true, especially during Lockdown 2 (or is it 3? Lmao I've lost count).

I'll be honest: I've read two other Jhumpa Lahiri books (two short story collections) and they really did not stick in my memory at all. This, though, I thought was really impressive. Clearly, writing in Italian and then translating it back to English has done something to her: her voice, style. I went down a definite wormhole reading about this book's background: how she wrote it in Italian, her obsession with Italian, her belief that it is always possible to change. After a year in which I felt SO, SO, SO emotionally, physically, and mentally stagnant and stuck, this kind of attitude felt like a very, very badly needed breath of fresh air for me, and EXTREMELY inspiring and hope-inducing.

The book has no plot to speak of. It's a series of short passages (meditations, if you will). The narrator is a middle-aged single woman - a spinster, basically. As she puts it: "Solitude: it's become my trade. As it requires a certain discipline, it's a condition I try to perfect. And yet it plagues me, it weighs on me in spite of my knowing it so well." She is moody, and suffers from what she calls a "dull slothfulness" that ALL of us can relate to (don't @ me). She was a good daughter - quiet, obedient - and is now a good academic. The city is presumably Rome, though it is never specified.

A big part of the book I absolutely LOVED were all the bits about wandering around the city -shopping for a particular cheese, the shiniest of eggplants. Would have I loved this as much if I weren't in lockdown? Who knows. But God, I needed it: the beautifully precise observations of "the cauliflower leaves and clementines that always fall out of their wooden crates." The wonderful details: "The blistered heels of girls in flip-flops who can't stand their punishing ballerina flats anymore." She eavesdrop on arguing couples, goes to antique fairs, buys secondhand books of poetry at flea markets. "Every purchase, however mundane, makes me happy. Each item validates my life somehow."

The book is like Knausgaard is the sense that it's preoccupied with what it calls the "banal, stubborn vestiges of life". Another theme throughout the book is youth vs age, and the woman's melancholy (dare I call it depression?). And yet at the end of the book there IS a transformation of sorts, a metamorphosis. God, it makes me want to cry. If there is hope for her, is there hope for us too? Can we change our lives? Can we be happier?

Some books come by when you need them most, and I think this book was very much like that for me. Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC.

"I'm me and also someone else, I'm leaving and also staying. This realization momentarily ruffles my melancholy, like a current that stirs the branches of trees, that discomfits the leaves... I've never stayed still, I've always been moving, that's all I've ever been doing. Always waiting either to get somewhere or to come back. Or to escape."
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Disoriented, lost, at sea, at odds, astray, adrift, bewildered, confused, severed, turned around. 
I spring from these terms. These words are my abode, my only foothold.

This novella was written by the Booker shortlisted (and Pulitzer Prize winning) author Jhumpa Lahiri in Italian, a language with which she has said that she fell in love since first visiting the country in 1994 prior to moving to Rome), one in which she has written and from which she has translated (most noticably a novel by Domenico Starnone – an author at the heart of Elena Ferrante identify claims).  Published successfully in Italian and already translated into a number of European languages, this English translation is by the author herself.

The book is set out in a series of short chapters – set over a year, in which the unnamed narrator, living in the unnamed City (which seems to be Rome) in which she was born traces her life over the course of a year.  With a small number of exceptions, each chapter is set in a location (the sidewalk, the street, at the trattoria, in the bookstore, in the waiting room, at my house, in bed), time (In Spring, In August, In Winter) with a few set “In My Head” (I believe these are 'Tra sé e sé' in the original).  

In each, in a first person present tense, the narrator – an academic who lives alone – describes both her own life and the lives of others and the City around her, and reflects on a number of relationships (her mother – with whom she had a tumultuous relationship as a child and teenager but who is now old and frail; her frugal father – who largely distanced himself from the mother-daughter rows, old lovers, and a married friend with whom the never acted on possibility of an affair serves as background music to their interactions).  The sense is of someone who enjoys a solitary life, something of an observer – but also someone who seems (as the opening quote to my review implies) something of an outsider searching for a sense of place and identity.  

The writing is elegant, but also slightly rather restrained. If I had a mild disappointment with the book it is that I had hoped the process of writing in a third language (the author’s mother tongue was Bengali) and self-translating into English – would mean that the author would bring a new perspective to English – a new way of assembling the language to explore and express ideas – and I did not really sense that.

Definitely though a worthwhile read and one I would not be surprised at all to see longlisted for the Booker – although this time the International version (albeit not until 2022 due to its scheduled May 2021 publication date)
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A series of short vignettes, this book is a bit of a mystery to me - it shouldn’t have hung together, as it doesn’t seem to have a direction, but somehow it did. These are the innermost thoughts of a single woman, living on her own in an Italian city, and although she’s trying hard to convince the reader (and herself I think) that her life is this way through choice, there is always a sense of yearning in the writing. I think I enjoyed it, but am not really sure, as on reaching the end, I didn’t feel any forward forward in her life than I had at the beginning. Nonetheless, the writing is lush and beautiful, and every reader will take something different from the book, finding reward in reading it, whatever their life situation.
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Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

Whereabouts is one of the most beautiful and poetic books I’ve read in a long time.  

We follow a woman’s life as she walks along her pavement, to the piazza, the coffee shop, swimming pool and we hear her conversations and about her celebrated loneliness and independence. 

If you’re looking for a deep plot and suspense, this isn’t the book for you. What it is, is a strong character-led book which shows thoughts, wants and beliefs of one woman who you neither like nor hate. There isn’t really a beginning or an end, it’s a snippet of someone’s whole life, which is pretty deep if you think about it. 

You may like this book if you liked Stoner or Girl, Woman, Other
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Review – Whereabouts 

Summary: 

Soulfully narrated in a flowing, evocative prose, Whereabouts is a collection of personal essays of a woman who lives a solitary life, alone but not lonely.

What I loved: 

Imagine finding a diary or a personal journal. You don’t know who left it behind, but you are curious and you start leafing through it. And a for a little moment in time, you are transported to a serene world. A world inhabited by the woman who wrote the journal. She goes for a walk, meets friends for dinner, walks a friends dog, goes on a day trip, spends a quiet afternoon in the piazza. And all throughout, she finds little snippets of profound thoughts and recollections that she pens down. 

This is the world you see in Whereabouts – Jhumpa Lahiri’s captivating new book, written in a flawless, dazzling prose that is so characteristic of her. 

Although I loved reading her books like the Namesake, which is basically a single story, I most enjoy her short story collections like Unaccustomed Earth. It just goes to show the breadth of her talent and why Lahriri is one of the most prolific writers of our times. 

Final words: There's always a certain kind of melancholy about Jhumpa Lahiris writing. One that fills you with longing and compels you to slow down and savour the little aspects of life; like buying stationery, or reading the newspaper. A book that will be my top recommendation for everyone this year. 

Thank you Bloomsbury and Netgalley for my Advanced Readers Copy.
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I am a huge fan of Lahiri and her immense skill. Am also fascinated with her choosing to learn and write in Italian. The book just made me sad... very melancholic and lonely. As a woman who has chosen not to have a child, I often feel that I am offered the ability to travel freely and operate pretty selfishly. This book turned that on its head and made me feel pretty isolated and lonely. Feel like I need to shake it off.
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This fell really flat for me. I think it may be a case of this book being lost in translation. I love Lahiri’s writing - I read Interpreter of Maladies at university two years ago and I absolutely loved it. While I love Lahiri’s style itself, the content of this felt a little lacklustre, devoid of emotion, monotonous. The nonchalance about adultery and affairs wasn’t something I could get behind, either. I think I would’ve loved this if it were less stream of consciousness and more emotional prose.
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Whereabouts is impressive. If asked what it’s about, I’d struggle to make it sound interesting. But it is; compelling, even. I’m not sure how Jhumpa Lahiri achieves it. I read it immediately after The Namesake. They have in common a straightforward telling of a life or part of a life; not all the details but enough of them for me to fully connect with a person whose circumstances on the face of it share nothing with my own. But relishing being alone yet battling loneliness, of craving human contact yet repelling sustained intimacy transcend time and place.
While The Namesake seems to capture the detail of living in India and the US across the second half of the twentieth century, this rings as true a portrayal of a woman living alone in Italy as Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Child. Jhumpa Lahiri’s range is astonishing even before you consider that she wrote this in Italian and translated it herself. For the most part, the sentences are short, the language straightforward. But it’s anything but facile. I was drawn in wholly, keen to know what else this woman encountered in her day.
I strongly recommend this book. Fairly short, it still managed to have an impact and has stayed with me.
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This book is seductively low-key, more a series of encounters and observations than a story with a forward thrusting narrative.  But those encounters and observations are so beautifully observed and so nuanced that it worked on this reader with great effect. 
A woman explores a small Italian town..  She walks familiar streets, visits cafes, bumps into friends, looks in shop windows, goes away for a weekend to the countryside, wonders if she’s happy, wonders why she’s angry or suddenly sad, contemplates an affair, observes others’ relationships.  These vignettes are placed in front of us: jumbled, messy, as haphazard as life.  By the end of the book, I felt as if I'd been party to another's interior world,  closely observing another’s life for a period of time.  I learned some things about her and discovered some things about myself.  A fascinating, dream-like book.
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Snapshots and reflections in the life of a solitary woman in Italy. Very well written short novel, now I'm curious to read it in Italian!
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What a beautiful piece of literature. From the first page to the last, the writing is exquisite and melodious, giving you a sense of comfort and wellbeing.

Jhumpa Lahiri turns the everyday into the vibrancy of life. The routine and familiar into aspects of intimacy and passion we would otherwise miss. I could spend time in the company of the narrator without thought of where else I needed to be. Now removed from her conversation I feel a sense of regret and loss.

Originally written in Italian it is translated by the author herself and it reveals her poetic soul. The language is enchanting. You feel warm through your whole being. More a reflection on the wonder of life and the things around you. You don’t feel like a confident listening to gossip; you don’t feel you are just nodding in the right places. You feel part of the woman’s life, as integral to her being and presence as her shoes. Not just seeing with her eyes but engaging all your senses.

This is beyond storytelling. It is fiction that borders on a reality that lifts the characters from the page and has you wishing you could independently reach out to them.

This book is charming. It will appeal to everyone, especially single and career minded women like the narrator or men who easily fall in love. It is about the simple things in life we might allow to pass us by in our daily rush and dash.
It is a celebration of life and the pleasures of Italy.

I loved the style and content of short chapters that were like a lived in news report, personal, honest and self-effacing. The short articles have a continuity and a passing chronology that builds up into a bigger picture and lifts the prose beyond just random diary entries.

It is an unusual style of fiction; this almost factual recounting of travels and observations. It has completely won me over to this writer and left me feeling more alert to seeing rather than just being. Whether being somewhere, time spent with someone or engaged in a mundane task.

It is life-affirming and a feel good book you could give to anyone. (Short instalments, unlike a novel. Never trying to be preachy, like a “thought for the day”) The recipient of this book will be forever grateful to you.
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Lahiri’s first novel in Italian is a series of short vignettes that together describe a year in the life of a forty something female academic. The prose is much sparser than I’m used to in Lahiri’s work (unsurprising as she’s writing in a new language) and some of the translation is a little clumsy considering Lahiri did it herself but not a word is wasted in this very vivid portrait of a sometimes lonely woman and the “him” circling the fringes of her life. A rich story told in comparatively few words and a great achievement for Lahiri - having read In Other Words last year, I felt strangely proud of her for having mastered the language enough to attempt a novel in it. ‘Whereabouts’ demonstrates she is more than up to the task. Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.
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I requested an ARC of this book from Netgalley because I loved The Interpreter of Maladies.
This book follows a year in the life of a nameless narrator. She talks about the places she goes, the people she knows. No one has names, we only see what these people are to her.
The book is a series of vignettes, where we see the world through one woman. We get a sense of who she is - bookish, melancholy, lonely, not entirely likeable (but interesting enough to make you want to keep reading). There is a story of sorts, but mostly it's about us getting to know and understand the narrator. The language is sparse and deployed with precision so that you get a great sense of place and personality with minimal description.
It's a thought provoking book. I enjoyed it
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This is beautifully well written and that's after being translated from Italian it traveled well.  
It's like reading someone's private diary but having it written just for you only, the thoughts or experiences of one lady.  Each chapter is a separate entry for a day not every day is covered as in not consecutive days. But the details are special and personal and well worth reading.  To be let into someone else's confidence is always special to hear the hidden thoughts that can't be spoken out loud well not without offence  however you get to know her personal thoughts the real way she sees life in as I said such a very beautiful and often poetic style. 
So what do I think and why 5 stars,  well above is a good clue and I really feel it is well deserved its a book you can dip in and out of our read through which ever it will make you wonder and think on. So an easy 5 star for me hope you get to love it as well.
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This is a dazzlingly clever book with simultaneous translation from English to Italian by an author seeped in both linguistic traditions. For those who love language and can speak both this will be fascinating. I am a longtime, huge admirer of Lahiri’s work. She rarely puts down a dull sentence and her work is original and vibrant. For me, this book is not her most successful but it’s always a joy to read her.
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Whereabouts is a short book, the kind of novel about which some would complain that nothing (or nothing positive) happens, but it really grabbed me.  It's hard to say why this tale of a writer/academic living a fairly self-contained existence in a non-specified, Italian location (Whereabouts) is so compelling.  Perhaps it's the narrator's combination of self-effacement: "I've always felt in someone's shadow" and control: "Though [the dog] pulls me, I'm the one holding the leash". Perhaps it's the subtle ease of the prose, its descriptiveness and the tension between its fragmentary structure and its cumulative power.  Whereabouts is both too short and very rewarding.
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I really loved this book, taking glimpses into the life of a lonely woman in an Italian town, and sharing her observations of the small things going on around her.  The passage that appealed to me most strongly was the description of the stationer's shop.  Such businesses have mostly disappeared from my native UK, but I was happy to rediscover the pleasure to be had in real old-fashioned shops of this kind in my adopted Spain, so every word spoke eloquently to me.

I will certainly be reading more of this author.  I am in awe of writers who can write such faultless, seemingly effortless prose.  The book is short but there are no wasted words so there is a whole world to enjoy, a whole world that many writers would need twice as many pages to convey.
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I received this book as an ARC in exchange for a review
i have to say that at first I wasn't sure what to make of the book but the writing somehow kept me engaged. It is beautifully written. A woman, we never know her name gives us multiple eclectic glimpses into her rather lonely life. Affected quite strongly by events in her childhood, some of which are revealed her life is rather dour. She can see beauty but it never seems to permeate her skin. It is rather depressing to read. There were times when I strongly empathised with her and I did feel that this kept me engaged with the book. There were other times when I felt decidedly distanced from her thoughts; that they were unremittingly sad and melancholic. Quite a short book and not hard to read. I would have preferred UK   English to US English. I think I would have connected more. The words were creating pictures and I felt they should have been fully European ones. It's almost as if the language detached the woman from her words. If I could I would definitely read it in the original Italian
I couldn't quite make up my mind as to how many stars I was going to give this book as I was reading it. Now I've finished I think it's definitely 5 stars
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In my opinion, Jumpha Lahiri is really good at writing short stories, even if they are all interconnected, but these short moments of a life, especially because (I like to think) they are set in Rome, are really photographic snapshots, one more beautiful than the other.

Secondo me Jumpha Lahiri é veramente bravissima a scrivere brevi storie, anche tutte collegate fra loro, ma questi brevi momenti di una vita, specialmente (mi piace pensare ) ambientati a Roma, sono proprio delle istantanee fotografiche, una piú bella dell'altra.

THANKS NETGALLEY FOR THE PREVIEW!
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This book is something else.

At points ethereal and at points heartbreaking.

The writing is as strong as it has ever been and is beautiful as we follow this unnamed and muster woman who shares her thoughts and feelings with us over the course of a year.

We learn of her complicated relationship with her parents, with her lovers and with the futures she didn’t want to the futures she wanted but didn’t end up having.
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