Guest Post by Kevin Brown
On one level, the title of Lahiri’s story collection, Roman Stories, is an obvious description of the work, given that all of the stories take place in Rome. However, in many of the stories, the characters are not actually Roman, or at least not by birth and, sometimes, citizenship.
Instead, they have often come to Rome later in life, and, thus, the retain that outsider status, even if they end up staying in Rome for the remainder of their days. By taking such an approach, Lahiri gives voice to a wide variety of characters, pointing out the multitude of stories found in a city like Rome.
The best example of this approach is the longest story in the collection, and the only one in Part II: “Steps.” The story shifts through six different sections, each focused on a different person/group of people: The Mother, The Widow, The Expat Wife, The Girl, Two Brothers, The Screenwriter. Each character or group has a connection to the same set of steps, a connection that reveals something important about each character or group. Though they come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, this place in Rome binds them all together, at least on some level.
That serves as a metaphor for the collection itself, as the characters are diverse, but their connection to Rome binds them all together, whether they want to be or not.
Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. Alfred A. Knopf, October 2023.
Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite