Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri: In A City of Broken Embraces

Sayantan Ghosh
Sayantan GhoshNov 10, 2023 | 16:40

Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri: In A City of Broken Embraces

Jhumpa Lahiri’s third collection of stories following her Pulitzer-winning debut, Interpreter of Maladies, in 1999 and Unaccustomed Earth in 2008, is a lilting portrait of lives in and around Rome – flitting between feeling at home and away at once.

Much like her previous book, Whereabouts, which released in 2021, the stories in this anthology were first written in Italian and later translated into English by Lahiri and Todd Portnowitz, her editor at Knopf.


A constant sense of restlessness is palpable in nearly every page of Roman Stories. The narrator in “P’s Parties”, while looking at a large gathering of people at a crowded birthday party, says:

“They had a strategic relationship with this city without ever fully being a part of it, knowing that sooner or later their trip would end and one day they’d be gone.”

It’s true for almost every character Lahiri introduces us to on this journey, all of whom remain unnamed.

Amidst them, Rome thrives and survives as a melting pot for outsiders, where countless such people in self-appointed exile persist around xenophobic graffiti, unfamiliar vocabularies, and random acts of both kindness and cruelties – all under the flickering light of an ancient, trying yet euphonious city.

Exploration of foreignness has been a common thread in Lahiri’s practice ever since she moved from the United States to Rome, learned Italian and eventually started writing in that language.

All of these stories are tinged with a deep sense of individual sorrow but rarely ever explicitly mournful. When you’re attending the funeral of someone who you were once close to and then later drifted apart from, and are expected to say a few things about them, you often end up mumbling since you have no new memories to share, and the old ones might have started to fade.


Then you find yourself sitting in a corner of the room, occasionally staring at the photograph of the recently deceased, pretending to remember who they were while actually trying to recall who you yourself once used to be. An oddly private melancholia – this book is like that feeling.

Last updated: November 10, 2023 | 16:40
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