Perhaps the strongest piece in Jhumpa Lahiri's collection Unaccustomed Earth "Only Goodness" is the story of an American Bengali family and their alcoholic son Rahul. He takes his first drink in high school when he visits his sister Sudha at college. By the time he is dismissed from college several years later, he is an alcoholic who has devastated his parents and destroyed their high expectations for him. The once precocious and promising Rahul returns to live in his parents' home and finds work in a laundromat. Other disappointments and fractures to their relationship occur as he becomes further estranged from them. Finally serious about his recovery, he sends a postcard to Sudha, now living in London with her British husband and their baby, and asks to visit them. The visit goes very well until Rahul gets drunk while babysitting his infant nephew and leaves him alone in the bathtub as he is passed out in bed. Sudha, unable to make excuses for him, asks him to leave their home the following morning.


"Only Goodness" is a sensitive, insightful portrait of a family coping with addiction. The same fear, anger, disappointment, and bewilderment can be found in any family facing this illness, but here they are illuminated through the cultural norms and familial expectations of an immigrant couple raising their children in the U.S. The relationship between Sudha and Rahul is at the heart of the story that traces her early indulgence of him and the tenuous hope she maintains throughout years of disappointment, finally broken by his drunken disregard of their baby while under his care. This story would be useful in any class examining addictions and family relationships, and would be an excellent companion to David Sheff's memoir, Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction. Because readers do not have access to Rahul's experience of alcoholism, memoirs of addiction would also be useful companions, such as Augusten Burroughs's Dry, or Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story (see annotations).

Primary Source

Unaccustomed Earth


Alfred A. Knopf

Place Published

New York



Page Count