In a glowing review in today's New York Times of Jhumpa Lahiri's new book Unaccustomed Earth (Knopf, 2008), Michiko Kakutani writes,
I haven't yet read Unaccustomed Earth, but the comparison that this particular plot line brings to mind isn't with opera, but Bollywood (although, as Memsaab points out, they have a lot in common). The bride who, on the eve of her arranged marriage, once again encounters her true love is a Bollywood staple: it features in such films as DDLJ (1995) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). And while the brave heart usually does take the bride, it's not always so. In Devdas (2002) the arranged marriage proceeds; in Veer-Zaara (2004) the couple is separated. And in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1998) the meeting with the lover occurs after the arranged marriage, with an unexpected result.
"The last three overlapping tales in this volume tell a single story about a Bengali-American girl and a Bengali-American boy, whose crisscrossing lives make up a poignant ballad of love and loss and death. Hema and Kaushik get to know each other as teenagers....Hema secretly nurses a crush on Kaushik, but he is oblivious to her schoolgirl antics and preoccupied with his mother’s deteriorating health."
Kaushik becomes a photojournalist; "Hema, meanwhile, becomes a professor, a Latin scholar, who...impulsively decides to opt for a traditional arranged marriage; though she is conscious of the 'deadness' of this proposed partnership, she tries to convince herself that the relationship will endow her life with a sense of certainty and direction. Then, against all odds, Hema and Kaushik run into each other in Rome — on the eve of Hema’s departure for her wedding...[The story has] an operatic denouement..."
"In the hands of a less talented writer it’s an ending that might have seemed melodramatic or contrived, but as rendered by Ms. Lahiri it...[is] a testament to her emotional wisdom and consummate artistry as a writer."
Perhaps Kakutani thought that invoking Bollywood in a review of an Indian-American writer's work would be a cliché. And ordinarily I might agree; however, in this case it seems that Lahiri herself is explicitly making the connection. I'll post again once I have a chance to read Unaccustomed Earth.
(Apologies to those who read the first version of this post, but I came to feel that both Kakutani and I gave too much away. The above is a version edited to avoid revealing the endings of both Lahiri's story and the films.)