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Roman Stories

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I find Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing fascinating, I feel like I have grown along with her. She won the Pulitzer around the time I left university, it was the best short story collection I had ever read. I picked up The Namesake when I was traveling abroad for the first time. She is one of the writers I have continually checked in with through my adult life.

I find it so interesting that she is now writing in Italian, exploring contemporary Italian life from her perspective. I enjoyed this collection very much, the writing is straightforward in a way that I can recognize from my experience as an adult learning a second language.

You can probably tell from my review that I have a history of enjoying this author’s writing, this collection adds to that enjoyment. My hunch is that this would not be the best place to start with Lahiri’s work although I may be wrong, maybe it would be just as fascinating to work your way backwards through her books. Either way, I have loved all of her published work & this is no exception.

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3.5, rounded up. Lahiri is one of my all-time favorite writers, and this is her first collection of short stories since 2008's Unaccustomed Earth. It's also her second work of self-translated fiction since she started writing exclusively in Italian, after 2018's Whereabouts, an episodic short novel about a clinically depressed middle-aged woman coming unmoored from emotional ties.

Lahiri's smooth, lapidary prose style flows throughout these nine stories, but the execution is especially uneven. All the stories are set in her sometimes-home of Rome, whose steps, piazzas, basilicas, and apartment buildings are the backdrop for hushed and melancholy narratives of emotional displacement and cultural alienation. They feature protagonists who are frequently unnamed (except for an initial) or known by their professions.

Some of these are educated, bourgeois lifelong Romans who work in academia or medicine, and are beset by the usual package of middle-aged ennui, nagging unfulfillment, and collapsing marriages.
The strongest story of this type was "P's Parties," about a middle-aged married man's attraction to a female party guest he only meets every year or so. And I also enjoyed "Dante Alighieri," about a middle-aged American professor specializing in Dante who ruminates on a youthful love that she never consummated and the accumulation of betrayals in her marriage to a much older man.

Less successful stories, such as "A Well-Lit House," "The Delivery," and "Notes" are slighter and cruder, with point-of-view characters who are recent immigrants to Italy, ostensibly from South Asia or Africa, who suffer from implicit racist abuse and acts of xenophobic violence. The long story "Steps" attempts to bring these two worlds together, with a series of protagonists sharing the same urban staircase but living in different thought-worlds that make empathy an impossibility.

Thanks to Knopf and Netgalley for giving me an ARC of this collection, in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

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3.5 stars

When fellow readers talk to me about Jhumpa Lahiri its always with great admiration. In fact, I’ve yet to come across a fan who hasn’t taken something meaningful from her writing, whether it be from a novel or a lauded short story.

And now I can say I’ve had a somewhat similar experience after having read her latest story collection, "Roman Stories." I, too, see her brilliance – when she shines, she blinds – but unfortunately not every story in her latest release is memorable.

Some background: Lahiri, after being raised in the United States, has moved to Italy and adopted Italian as her second language. As far as I’m aware, she now writes only in Italian and chooses to then translate her work into English, which seems backwards to me. And what’s even more curious is that three of the stories in this collection are translated by someone else – Todd Portnowitz. It leaves me wondering why she used another translator when typically she does the work herself.

When considering Lahiri’s move to Italy, it’s unsurprising that she chooses to write about the country. All of the stories are set in Rome, and they all feature an unnamed narrator, either a native of Rome or a foreigner, who gives the reader a cultural and social take on the city as they see it. Thematically, the stories do have some common threads, that of immigration and displacement from one’s home country, the difficulties of adapting to a new culture, racial aggression, and loss. It feels, too, as if Lahiri draws a line on the page between insiders and outsiders, perhaps mirroring some of her own encounters.

A few of the standout stories:

"The Boundary," where a family vacationing in the Roman countryside is observed by the caretaker’s daughter.

"P’s Parties," a tale about a Roman married couple who looks forward to their friend’s yearly birthday gathering where they interact with interesting foreigners.

"The Delivery," a captivating snapshot of racial violence.

"The Steps," the longest story of the bunch, it features short vignettes about different residents who live near a towering public staircase.

The remaining stories are okay, but they’re missing the wow factor. It’s almost like something misfired in the translation, causing important pieces of the narrative to be left out. And then Lahiri can’t quite take us all the way to where she wants us to go, resulting in some of the endings to be jarring and not in line with the rest of the story.

"Roman Stories" left me with the sense that it’s not Lahiri’s best work. And while I still plan to read more from her, devotees may be left disappointed with the collection as a whole.

My sincerest appreciation to Jhumpa Lahiri, Knopf, and NetGalley for the digital review copy. All opinions included herein are my own.

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unfortunately, none of the short stories worked for me. i could not feel for any of the characters and the stories felt a bit disjointed and the story collection was not as cohesive as a whole. however, that being said, the writing in this book is beautiful and lyrical and gorgeous.

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I’ve had a mixed reaction to this author’s work. I’ve loved some of her books, but others not so much. This collection of short stories definitely falls into the blah category for me. The only story that really resonated with me was “Notes”, about an immigrant woman in Rome experiencing hateful treatment. The other stories were very slight. I was annoyed by the author’s affectation of never giving a character a name and never naming the countries from which characters emigrated. Also, I don’t need to keep hearing that the author wrote the stories in Italian (not her native language) and then translated them into English. That gimmick doesn’t really impress me or add anything to my enjoyment of the writing.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

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Jhumpa Lahiri's long-awaited ROMAN STORIES sees one of the masters of the English short story approaching the form from a new language: Italian. Even through translation, Lahiri's trademarks are noticeable: elegant sentences, deftly crafted plots, piercing observations, quiet domestic scenes that brew until they become something more, something unspeakable. In this collection, Lahiri shifts attention away from the upper-class Indian immigrants who cluttered her earlier fiction; the characters here are referred to by generic titles ("my wife") or receive truncated names ("P," "L") rather than the specific and contextual names of, say, INTERPRETER OF MALADIES (Mr. Pirzada, Boori Ma, Mrs. Sen). Yet an attention to foreignness courses throughout the collection. In "P's Parties," the narrator finds, in the fantasies of an extramarital affair, a chance to escape the country he has always known. In "The Boundary," a line seems to divide immigrants and locals—until it doesn't. "Well-Lit House" follows a family facing xenophobic discrimination; in its zoomed-out focus on an entire neighborhood, the structure of the story is reminiscent of "A Real Durwan" or "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar." This collection proves that Lahiri is more than a writer of South Asian stories. She can focus her pen on anything, and the result will be a muted, graceful story, one that slices under the surface and dissects without judgment.

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This is a review that is going to make me feel very lazy. Inept. But here goes.

I first came to Jhumpa Lahiri years ago, when The Namesake was in paperback. That book! I devoured it and still consider it a favorite. Unaccustomed Earth, her second collection of short stories, was equally moving. Oddly, while my copy of Interpreter of Maladies has a place of pride on my shelf, I've yet to read it. I don't know what I'm saving it for, but I intend to savor it when the time comes. I read The Lowland shortly after my son was born in 2013. The ending shocked me (though I was admittedly in a perpetual fog) and, as time passes, I appreciate that book more.

Which brings me to this collection, Roman Stories. Reading this book was fine. Time well spent. But nothing seemed terribly memorable to me, no character who will linger and keep me company during the quiet moments. I wish I could read Italian so I could ascertain whether something was lost in translation, though I doubt that's the case. I understand and respect that these stories were about quiet moments, snapshots of mundane moments in the lives of Romans. And for that, I'm appreciative. I just wish I connected more.

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First, thank you to the publishers and to NetGalley for an eArc for this title in exchange for a fair and honest review!

I am a big fan of Jhumpa Lahiri and expect beautiful writing-- this did not disappoint! While it was a little bit of a departure from what Lahiri is known for, but it was still lush, rich writing that captivated my attention and kept me engaged. Overall, it was a beautiful collection, one that I will return to I'm sure in the future and likely incorporate into my classroom!

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3.75 stars

It's reasonable to think that folks will be drawn to this collection because of its renowned author, and while Lahiri's skill shines through here, these are not the pieces - overall - for which she will be most fondly remembered (and that's okay!).

The sense of place is palpable in these understated stories, which feature a variety of characters. Lahiri uses sensory details to bring readers into every scene. Anyone who has experienced Rome in the summer will be transported right back to that oppressive heat, those swarming ants and PDA, and the sounds of the crowded beach. Thanks to Lahiri, this collection can also serve as a pretty cost-effective way to visit!

While these stories are engaging in their own right, they do mark a departure from what Lahiri is best known for, and that may challenge some of her seasoned readers. Come in with the expectation of something different, and you may also be surprised by a brief Roman holiday.

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Thanks to Knopf and Netgalley for a digital copy of Jhumpa Lahiri's new collection of short stories for my honest opinion.

These nine short stories are set in Rome, which is Lahiri's adopted city. She has written them in Italian and they are translated to English. The stories are about foreigners (immigrants , expats, etc.) living in and around the city.

I like this collection well enough, but prefer Lahiri's books and short story collections written about the Indian immigrant experience in America.

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Happy publication day to Jhumpa Lahiri, whose new collection of short stories releases today!

Roman Stories is for anyone who loves for the sense of place to be so strong that it's practically a character. It's for travelers, expats and immigrants - anyone still grappling with the meaning of "home." These stories are about belonging and wanting to belong, about insiders and outsiders.

Roman Stories is also for readers who are interested in the art of translation and what it means to think and create in foreign languages. Lahiri who moved to Italy in 2013, wrote Roman stories in Italian, and then translated it, with the help of Todd Portnowitz, to English. Interestingly, the language has a different feel than that of her last novel Whereabouts - also written in Italian and translated by the author to English. The prose in Roman Stories is simpler and less meandering, but no less enjoyable.

I always enjoy seeing what Lahiri does next with her writing and translation and Roman Stories was no exception. Thank you to Knopf and Netgalley for the advanced readers copy!

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Special thanks to Knoph, Pantheon, Vintage and Anchor and NetGalley for the ARC of this book.

I love Jhumpa Lahiri. I love short story books even though you have to take the misses along with the hits. Of course I don't go into a short story book of the same author expecting to love every story.

So I was a bit surprised to have mixed feelings here. Jhumpa Lahiri's writing is amazing as always. These stories are about immigrants and foreigners and touches on how the characters feel in a different country. Sad.

So the book is 9 short stories grouped into 3 categories with 3 stories each. I am a big fan of Jhumpa Lahiri and wish I got this in audio, because I hear it's better with narrations by different people.

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Roman Stories presents nine short stories of outsiders, be they immigrants or traveling visitors, living or in the orbit of Rome. Lahiri's characters are all highly observant, struggling to make sense of their lives or the impact of actions of others.

Lahiri lived in Rome from 2012 to 2015, learning Italian, and writing in that language and translating her own work and that of others from Italian to English.* The stories in this volume were written in Italian and translated both by Lahiri and Todd Portnowitz.

The stories are grouped into three unnamed parts.

The first section beings with "The Boundary." This story is narrated by a young women living with her father, who maintain a rental house for summer visitors. They used to live in a city, before they were driven out. "The Reentry" finds two old friends meeting for lunch after one's father has died. During the meal one is the target of prejudiced micro-aggressions that the other doesn't address, permanently changing their friendship. "Well-Lit House" shows an immigrant family finding happiness in a new home before racial hatred and safety concerns splits the family.

Part 2, the center, is the single story "The Steps" told through six different narrations. Each of them in some way interacts with an ancient 126 step staircase, mostly by traversing it. The staircase is both a method of transit, but also serves as a gathering place for everyone during the day and youths drinking in the evening and night, the broken remnants of their indulgence let to shine in the light of day. Some are driven by their routines, others are thinking of their wants and desires, one is trying to distract herself from an impending medical procedure. Some are young wondering what their future holds while the older see the stairs as a physical challenge to be survived or conquered.

Part 3, balances part 1 with the last four stories. They too look both backwards through the lives of their narratives and embrace multiple perspectives. "The Delivery" sees a women who keeps house for someone else being attacked, before shifting to one of her attackers. "The Procession" centers on an older couple revisiting Rome, together, when the wife visited as student. They are there to witness the procession of the Virgin, but instead become fixated on a locked room in their rental a distraction from grief. "Notes" is about a widowed woman looking for connections to her earlier life who takes up an extra job as a playground monitor, but begins to find notes with child like writing declaring animosity or that the narrator is 'dirty.' the last story "Dante Alighieri" begins with a women detailing her first romance, the title the secret name used to deliver a love letter, before jumping to the present, where the narrator's mother-in-law funeral is taking place. She recounts her romantic life, detailing the choices that explains her current split life between the United States and Rome.

Rich in sorrow and grappling with complex emotions and the difficulties of contemporary social life, Roman Stories encourages the empathy of knowing the struggles of others.

* Thwaites, Lilit Žekulin. “How Learning Italian and Moving to Rome Changed Jhumpa Lahiri’s Life.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 2022,

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I have been a long-time fan of Jhumpa Lahiri - the first book I read of hers was a copy of Interpreter of Maladies given to me by a friend in 2004. I recently read her memoir, In Other Words, as well as her other book set in Italy, Whereabouts, and loved them both.

I felt really mixed about Roman Stories. Overall the writing was amazing, so beautiful and descriptive as always. I didn't love the content of the stories and didn't feel very connected to most of the characters. Some of the stories were so sad, but almost as an afterthought, where just the very end was suddenly heart wrenching.

These stories really touch on and explore what it is like being a foreigner and an outsider living in a different country. There are many variations on this theme, and Jhumpa Lahiri definitely does not make it sound easy.

I enjoyed the mix of narrators -- some younger, some older, some male and some female. Overall each story was very unique and I always love getting a glimpse of life in Italy.

I will continue to be a huge fan of Jhumpa Lahiri and eagerly read whatever she writes in the future!

Thank you to NetGalley for the advanced copy of this book!

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This collection of stories all set in Rome started out strong. There were some less interesting/complex stories mixed in. Although I find it fascinating that Lahiri has been writing in Italian, I think I prefer her books/stories that are originally written in English.

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In these stories, Rome is almost a character rather than just the setting. For example, there’s one story called “The Steps” which is centered on an ancient staircase that serves as the gathering place in the neighborhood, and readers get little vignettes into the lives of the various people who use the stairs. Many of the stories explore the immigrant experience in Rome and the experience that brown people have there. Some deal with love and heartbreak, some with loss and grief. They’re all written beautifully but are also very accessible. She leaves things open-ended. This isn’t the type of collection in which everything is wrapped up in a neat and tidy bow, and I think that makes it feel more authentic and left me with more to think about.

This book is a great pick if you like reflective stories or books with a very strong sense of place, if you like to be transported to another country/culture when you read. But there are also many universal themes that pretty much everyone can relate to.

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I've been a Jhumpa Lahiri fan since day one, and this book is as good as her other books. After reading Whereabouts, I was intrigued by her use of not naming her characters. Somehow that made the writing more intriguing. So, when I read that Roman Stories was going to be published, I was excited! I am so glad I got an eARC (thanks to NetGalley). I gobbled this book right up (and I had two other eARCs I should have read before this one). There was a kind of sadness to these short stories, mostly told from a viewpoint of people who either have migrated to live in Rome, for one reason or another, or their encounter with those who have migrated to live in Rome. However, these stories were rich and stayed with you well after reading them.

I can't wait for the next book!

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Roman Stories are noticeably the first originally Italian short stories I’ve read by Jhumpa Lahiri. It has a similar solemn nature to Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth. Unlike her previous short stories, parts of the characters’ identities—such as their ethnicity or race—are more slowly and subtly revealed through the plots. In her earlier stories, these identifiers often set the scene. However, much like her previous stories, some of the conclusions are unexpected and sudden yet satisfying—not in the form of happy endings but in the sense of bringing a story full circle.

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Lahiri returns with a new story collection since her novel Whereabouts released prior. In some ways, Roman Stories has the same ingredients as Whereabouts: Lahiri masterfully tapping into the consciousness of her characters, favoring their mental duress over complete action occurring in the stories. Even so, my preference is for Lahiri feeling more engaged in her stories to allow more surprise and consequence, like how I felt reading Interpreter of Maladies. Meanwhile, Roman Stories feels a bit too casual and comfortable, Lahiri retreating into the same melodic lull that was so integral in Whereabouts. Here, however, it feels less surprising and fresh when meeting so many characters that feel reminiscent of each other one after the other. While the later stories in Roman Stories compelled me more, a slow burn doesn't quite feel like Lahiri at her best.

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I mean, it's a new Jhumpa Lahiri collection -- unless something has gone horribly wrong, you know it's going to be very, very good. Luckily, Lahiri is still in top form, and this collection of stories about everyday people living in her adopted hometown of Rome absolutely sings. She inhabits the perspectives of everyone from struggling immigrants to upper class professions and serves up delightful slices of life.

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