Nicole Krauss and Jhumpa Lahiri

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


(Signed Lahiri book and Nicole Krauss speaking)

My hometown (Indianapolis) does not get a lot of book tours. So when writers come to visit it feels like quite a treat. One local college, Butler University, offers an amazing free program, open to the public. It’s called the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series and it brings some wonderful authors into Indy to speak.

In the last month I had a chance to attend one featuring Nicole Krauss and another with Jhumpa Lahiri. I’m a fan of both authors’ work. I loved Interpreter of Maladies and The History of Love, but subsequent books from both have cemented the authors’ writing styles as favorites for me.

Nicole Krauss:

Krauss read from her novel Great House before answering questions. She discussed how writing from a different perspective often gives authors the freedom to say things that you couldn’t say if you were writing about someone similar to yourself. For example, in The History of Love Krauss’ main character is an elderly old man. She said she considered him the closet to her own personality, but because he was physically so different from her she was able to write more freely about things like loneliness, love and parenthood from his perspective.

She also talked a bit about her own ancestors who inspired bits of her books. Her Grandma was from Nuremburg, Germany, but she made it out before the war. In Nuremburg she fell in love with a doctor but she thought he had died and she left the country. She later fell in love with someone else and they got married. In America she discovered the doctor had lived when he tried to contact her, but she never wrote back to him because she decided that wasn’t part of her life anymore. Krauss said she didn’t model the characters on her grandparents, but she drew inspiration from them.

One other funny side note; when she first started having some success in New York as a writer, she would get messages on her answering machine for the author Nicola Kraus, who co-wrote The Nanny Diaries.

Jhumpa Lahiri:

Lahiri was just lovely. She read from Unaccustomed Earth and also a bit from her new novel, which is set to be published in Fall 2013. She answered questions about her writing habits and themes in her books.

One thing that was interesting was her comments about the importance of food in cultural identity. She remembered growing up in America and having parents that returned to India and brought back groceries on every trip. They wanted to make specific foods but were unable to find the foods and groceries they needed in the shops in America.

In each of Lahiri’s short stories and her novel one of the main themes is the characters’ struggle with having two different cultures inside of you. Some are born to Indian parents in America, others are born in India and moved to America later. She does such an excellent job of portraying that delicate dichotomy.

Here are two things she said which stood out to me…

“Writers are readers who picked up a pen.”

“Writing a story is like having a dream, but you’re in charge of it.

 *Photos by moi.

13 comments:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I loved everything that Jhumpa Lahiri has written. Wish she had something new out as I've read all of her books.

Her father was a professor at the university in town and she worked at the town library when she was high school, long before she became a successful author.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I would have loved to have seen Lahiri. You just know she would be a lovely person because her writing is almost ethereal. I am so envious!

Greg Zimmerman said...

Wow - very, very jealous! ;) Those are two fantastic writers - and I'm very excited to hear about Lahiri's new novel next year.

Brenna said...

Wow I'm so jealous! You are lucky to have gone to these readings! I'd kill to meet Lahiri, and Kruass would be pretty great too.

mari said...

Aren't writers' readings and signings so inspiring? I try to go to as many as I can. I discovered Lahiri when I was traveling; I walked into an airport bookstore and bought The Interpreter of Maladies and couldn't put it down. I remember thinking, "Did a human really write this?" And I nearly died and went to heaven after reading The Namesake.

Arti said...

Lahiri is one of my all time favorite writers. I've appreciated all her published works, but I like Unaccustomed Earth the most. She was reading from this book and a couple of my friends got me a signed copy from that event. (I live in Western Canada, and not many authors come by here, I'm afraid.) The two quotes you've posted here are simply wonderful. I also have The History of Love but still unread. One of these days I'll get to it. Thanks for an enjoyable post!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Diane - That is awesome! It's funny to think about running into authors before they're famous. They're just people, but it's easy to forget that.

Sandy - I know, she's just wonderful!

Greg - Me too! She's one author that I know I'll buy anythign she writes.

Brenna - It was fun to meet both, but Lahiri was definitely my favorite.

Mari - I love attending author readings. I feel like they always give you some information that provides a behind the scenes look at their work.

Arti - That was so sweet of your friends! You should read The History of Love. It's just beautiful.

nomadreader said...

I am so envious! Not many authors make it through Des Moines either, and I miss being closer to a university reading series (Iowa City gets a ton of great writers, but it's a long, traffic-filled 2+ hour drive). I don't love Nicole Krauss as much as many do, but I greatly admire and respect her as a writer. Thanks for sharing!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

nomadreader - I forgot about the writers school in Iowa. I bet you do get some interesting things there, but you'd have to really love an author to drive so far to see them.

Jenners said...

Oh … I would LOVE to see Jhumpa Lahiri. I think she is one of the most gifted short story writers I've ever read … and she is just downright gorgeous!!! How cool that you have an autographed copy of her book!! I fell in love with Unaccostmed Earth and have now read everything she's written. I'm so glad to hear she has a new book coming out next year!

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

Hearing Jumpha Lahiri speak must've been fascinating. Also, since you mentioned food, she always includes delicious descriptions of food in her stories.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - I'm so excited about it too! I've devoured her other books and I just can't even compare her writing to anyone else's.

Darlyn - She does! Someone in the crowd actually asked her why she did that and that's when she talked about the importance of food in culture.

Julie Kinnear said...

Hi, I envy you meeting Krauss. She must be a lovely person. I have not heard about Jhumpa Lahiri before but after reading all this nice comments and your report I think I will read some of her novels.:)