Update - Zoom Book Club - Joseph Luzzi



I have read several books recommended by Joseph Luzzi as part of his virtual book club I joined several months ago, mostly as a way to obtain the illusive culture I missed during the pandemic. But the only live event I have attended so far, unfortunately, was the one about the new futuristic novel, Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. I had been visiting my father on those monthly Thursdays when the book club meeting was held. One night my dad thought it would be a nice idea to make Shrimp Jambalaya together and I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had a virtual book club that night (as we sipped Chardonnay and he chopped onions, garlic and two kinds of hot sausage--like he used to do with my mom before she passed).


This last Thursday, we were honoring the first anniversary of his wife's--my mother's--death and there was yet another book club meeting on that Thursday, this time profiling Jhumpa Lahiri's new novel, Whereabouts. The day had been difficult; I had brought up sandwiches from my local grocery store, Brothers, and we had picnicked at my mom's grave, all my idea when my father had asked me what we should do to honor my mother on the anniversary of her death, not knowing what was appropriate--hoping it was o.k. to picnic at a grave--fearing those unknown cemetery rules.


But we had felt close to my mother that day: I read something I wrote for the occasion, ending with our apology that she had to die alone, with Covid and Alzheimer's in a New Hampshire hospital, a year ago last June. I planted flowers at her grave, bright colorful zinnias, originally intended for my father's gardens at his house--pink, orange, and a kind of fuchsia color. My dad had already hung baskets of dark red geraniums on hooks on either side of her granite headstone, but he suggested I plant the zinnias there in front , so I did. As I planted, I kept remembering how my mom thought the color pink clashes with red., except on Valentine's Day. I hoped she wouldn't mind. I had brought my kindle to read in case my father just wanted to sit--my mother was an avid reader and so then am I. Instead, we played Yo-Yo Ma, which, too, was nice, contemplative.


The recommended book for that night was Whereabouts, by Jhumpa Lahiri (I would later hear it discussed in a recording: a great feature of his book club). The novel was wonderful. It fit my melancholy mood. It was, as Joseph Luzzi described: Joyless, drained of any euphoria ... but with beautiful simplistic prose. The book resembles diary entries with no connected narrative structure--ironically similar to how the protagonist was living her life. Disconnected from society. Alone. Hardly ever positive. It fit my disconnected mood that day--from everyone but my father (as well as my sister who had joined us via cell phone video) for thoughts of my mother who had raised my sister, brother and me to be readers and thoughtful and caring persons--connected to people. How happy my father had been when she was alive. The lessons I learned from them about committed love from their marriage were profound. In Whereabouts, the protagonist's thoughts about middle age also mirrored my own, also how one could feel closer to death once a parent passes.


Luzzi discusses the author's other writings: Lahiri won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for a collection of short stories entitled Interpreter of Maladies. She wrote other fiction, too, including The Namesake (you'll recognize the name of the book that was made into a movie with one of my favorite actors, Dev Patel). She wrote the novel, The Lowland, which I'm reading now, ahead of the new book club selection for next month, which hopefully I will be free to attend virtually.


I'm loving The Lowland so far; it takes me back to my own writing about cultural differences in love in my novel Unrest (Holly and Subhash experience it in The Lowland). In parts of her novel, Lahiri writes of coastal Rhode Island, which I love--beach cottages, Narragansett, Newport, Jamestown, and all the rest. Perhaps I'll review The Lowland next?


In closing, I love the book club discussions, whether in person or recorded, including the professor's own interpretations of the recommended novels, interpretations which sometimes validate mine, or give me insight I may have never gotten to them on my own. I'm glad I joined this particular virtual book club. I enjoy the selections.


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