Saturday, February 7, 2009

Interpreter of Maladies - my thoughts

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Large Print Version
311 pages

From the back cover:
This stunning debut collection has won almost every award bestowed on a first book of fiction, including the Pulitzer Prize. Nine stories unerringly chart the emotional journeys of characters seeking love beyond the barriers of nations and generations. With accomplished precision and gentle eloquence, Lahiri traces the crosscurrents set in motion when immigrants, expatriates, and their children arrive, quite literally, at a cultural divide. Imbued with the sensual details of Indian culture, these stories speak with passion and wisdom to everyone who has ever felt like a foreigner. Like the interpreter of the title story, Lahiri translates between the strict traditions of her ancestors and a baffling new world.

I have not read a book of short stories ever. But one day as I was reading Mel's blog Lit*Chick, I came across her review about Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and was quite taken by her thoughts on this particular collection of short stories. I am always open to new ideas so this year I decided that I was going to read many, many collections of short stories. I actually started with an Audio version of Unaccustomed Earth, but the CD was so damaged in spots I just turned it in to the library and picked up Interpreter of Maladies instead. I am so glad that I ventured out in the short-story world. Each one of these stories were gems. I can say that I liked all of them but there were a few that I liked more. The first story, A Temporary Matter, was very well written. The two characters in the story are married, but they couldn't be more further apart than if they lived in two different hemispheres. What you don't know is that they suffered a horrible loss that effectively destroyed any connection they may have had. Lahiri writes their story centered around a scheduled power outage that takes place at the same time every night for one week. During this time, the two use the darkness to be speak truths to each other that ultimately led to an end of their marriage. Each of her stories encompasses the Indian culture, norms, food, and homeland. I have always been intrigued by India, one of my very favorite books, A Fine Balance, was located in India. I'm drawn to the beauty, the culture, the exotic foods and smells, but am also acutely aware of the poverty, the caste system and the low regard for women. I found myself laughing and wanting to be friends with Twinkle from This Blessed House. The newlyweds buy a house and find all kinds of Christian paraphernalia hidden in strange locations all over the house. Twinkle's desire to showcase these found objects and her husband's adamant exclamations of "we're not Christian!" battle against each other to a very satisfying conclusion. My favorite story of them all was the final one, The Third and Final Continent. This centered around a young man who has arrived in America to study at MIT and he's renting a room from a woman who is 103 years old. Before he came to America he went to home to Calcutta to marry a young lady he had never met. When she arrives in America they are strangers to each other but it is the visits to his old landlady that begin to bring them together as husband and wife. I found this story very satisfying because you learn that they ended up being happily married. I found this passage to be very endearing:

I wanted somehow to explain this to Mrs. Croft, who was still scrutinizing Mala from top to toe with what seemed to be placid disdain. I wondered if Mrs. Croft had ever seen a woman in a sari, with a dot painted on her forehead and bracelets stacked on her wrists. I wondered what she would object to. I wondered if she could see the red dye still vivid on Mala's feet, all but obscured by the bottom edge of her sari. At last Mrs. Croft declared, with the equal measures of disbelief and delight I knew well:
"She is a perfect lady!"
Now it was I who laughed. I did so quietly, and Mrs. Croft did not hear me. But Mala had heard, and, for the first time, we looked at each other and smiled.

This is easily a 4 stars out of 5 book!!


  1. Happy Saturday! I just starting reading the Joe Torre book. It maybe my first in a long time. I always love your enthuiasm for reading!

  2. I know I've read at least one of the stories from this collection in an anthology before...but which one was it? Off to see if I can find it...

  3. This collection of short stories are more creative than her latest, The Unaccustomed Earth.

  4. I have read the author's novel but not her short story collections--yet. I am glad to hear you enjoyed this one, Staci. I just finished a novel written by an Indian author--this one set in India. It's such an interesting culture and country.

  5. I've never read anything by this author but you certainly have me wanting to do so and I'm not even a fan of short stories. I saw a review of The Unaccustomed Earth today too and it got a glowing recommendation too. Definitely a couple of novels I need to check out. Great review Staci!

  6. Hi, Staci!

    I just had to come over and read your review; I enjoyed Interpreter of Maladies also. Thanks to your enthusiasm, I'll be reading it again! Wonderful review.

  7. "A Temporary Matter" was my favourite of this collection. :D And as some others have said, this one's a lot better than Unaccustomed Earth.

  8. I'm glad you liked this book. It is one I picked up last summer at a garage sale. I didn't even realize it was short stories. I noticed you have this listed at Large Print edition. Is that because you are old and need the large letters?


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