Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
1 April, 2010
I’ve been meaning to read Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories for so long, they became permanent guests on my wish list. Her fame and her expertise at storytelling is the stuff of the New York Times and Pulitzer legends, so I was thrilled to see there nestling amongst the bug-ridden books on my dusty bookshelves at my parent’s home, a pretty decent copy of Interpreter of Maladies which belongs to my sister. I read the book in two sittings (as you can get too much of the good stuff and you want to let the stories soak through your consciousness way after finishing).
Let me just say that I love short stories. There’s something complete about them. You can finish a story within a reasonable time frame, and if you are time-constrained, but desperately need to nourish your literary cravings, they are just the thing to give you enough of a fix to get you through your crappy day. I like to read them in the bath (as I can’t really sit there for more than 20 mins) and just before I sleep (as these days I am zonked out by midnight.)
And Lahiri didn’t disappoint (I’m sure authors must scratch their heads wondering about their reader’s ‘disappointments’. I mean, who exactly are we to feel disappointment for somebody’s careful labour of love? I’m as bad as the next person, so I try and read reviews with a pinch of salt. Everyone has their opinions. I usually need to make up my own mind.) Anyway, Lahiri’s writing is exquisite. There is no word out of place. Everything is placed for a reason. And her words just seemlessly fit and flow together. Not all the stories appealed to me, as I preferred the ones set in the West, but I thought this was a strong collection. And to me, it was great to read something about the South Asian diaspora that was contemporary and not too nostalgic. Something that smashes the illusion that by crossing the ocean into the West, South Asians would automatically find happiness and wealth. The human condition is the same in whichever country you live.
My favourite story was Mrs. Sen’s. Lahiri’s portrayal of a maths professor’s wife is domestic yet tinged with loneliness for a woman determined to make a fulfilling life for her and her husband in a new country. I really warmed to her character, the way she industriously prepared and cooked her meals, the driving lessons which her husband believed were so central to her assimilation into her new life and how she decides to look after a young boy to help out a working mother and to stave off her own loneliness. And she portrays beautifully the way Mrs. Sen’s world starts to crumble as she becomes overwhelmed by life in a strange country without her family around her.
I also liked A Temporary Matter about a young professional couple who have drifted apart after the stillbirth of their baby. You can feel how much they love each other but are unable to overcome their grief.
Lahiri’s writing is gentle yet packs a great emotional punch. I’ll be looking forward to reading her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, but then again, I might save it for next year. Don’t want to go through all the good stuff in one go!
It’s taken me a month and a half but I’ve finally finished reviewing all the books I read during my holiday. Yay!
I read this as part of the South Asian Author Challenge.