But with the brick wall I found myself faced with, I could not pretend I could go without dropping Kafka's The Metamorphosis. I just did not have the four days I know I need (at minimum) to do the text justice as an introduction to our Cultural Identity and Isolation theme. So, I punted and ended up making a homerun (sorry for the mixed sports metaphor). I had my students read two stories by Jhumpa Lahiri.
I read her collection Interpreter of Maladies in the fall and loved it. So a few weeks ago, I thought, "Well, she certainly introduces culture and the struggles that come along with it, and her stories are shorter than Kafka. Let's give it a whirl."
What an amazing two days of whirl. My students were fascinated from the start because Lahiri is a living, breathing writer (listen to her in this NPR interview). They said, "She makes us think we could do this too -- she is not Sophocles writing milennia ago." Then her stories delivered. I let them choose between "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" and "Mrs. Sen's," and they spent the next class period discussing their story with a partner who read the other story. The window into lives defined by culture was paradigm-changing for them. Her style was even more than this -- they read quotes by her and struggled with how to articulate the power they felt running under her words. We worked hard that day and loved it.
So if you can, add Lahiri into your curriculum. Even just two stories. But more importantly, I was reminded again of the spread of literature I can and should show my students. They really liked Sophocles last week, and they loved Lahiri this week. They know where writing came from and where it is today. They can join the conversation.