Video Book Review – Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

Whereabouts, a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, follows an unnamed narrator through her everyday life, quietly revealing bits about her.

She originally wrote the book in Italian, then translated it herself into English, quite a feat considering neither are her native language.

It’s a fictional series of short vignettes or essays, in which the main character reflects on her whereabouts. It reads like a walk down an Italian road, with observations of the places and people she sees. The essays read somewhat autobiographically, though the book is fiction. Through our unnamed main character’s interactions and observations, we get a picture of who she is.

And that person is a single woman in her 40s. A bit grouchy, a bit guarded, enjoying her independence while also feeling its loneliness. 

Whereabouts shows deep thoughts dwelling in the mundanities of everyday places. In the waiting room, in the pool, on the balcony, in the office — every place has a significance or a chance for discovery. Sometimes these discoveries are small, insignificant observations about other people. Other times, they lead to revelations about the author.

She’s admittedly a bit grumpy. A bit wary of new people and experiences. While she has great affection for the familiar friends, places, and sandwiches in her life, she seems reluctant to let in new things.

But there’s also fondness here. Woven together, these essays tell a story of familiarity, of safety. She’s found her places and people in the world and holds them dearly in her heart and mind. It’s sometimes a love letter to her familiar whereabouts, a final 360-degree panorama of her life before she moves on to new things.

Other times, it’s a portrait of a woman tired of her surroundings and sometimes even of her own company. One who is easily irritated and has been taught, both by past lovers and by her traumatic upbringing, that people can’t be counted upon. Her closest relationship is perhaps with the neighborhood barista, for mercy’s sake. 

Our narrator is, in all of these scenarios, alone. The book beautifully shows the luxury of solitude juxtaposed with the loneliness and isolation of solitude. 

There are no tear-stained revelations or proclamations here. NPR put it perfectly in their review:

“’Whereabouts’ is the literary equivalent of slow cooking; it demands patience.“

The book is quiet, subtle, and allows us as readers the chance to discover insights. It’s lovely.

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