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.

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11 Responses to “Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri”

  1. Kals Says:

    Mrs.Sen’s was my favourite too! I found myself in tears by the end of that story 🙂

    Lahiri is a wonderful, gifted writer who has a way with words. Unaccustomed Earth is very good too 🙂


  2. I’ve been meaning to get to her for ages myself. But it’s a lovely feeling when you finally do get around to something like this *and* find that it’s everything you had hoped it would be!

  3. Nymeth Says:

    I loved loved loved this book! A Temporary Matter was my favourite, but Mrs Sen was excellent too. They all were. Her writing really is absolutely exquisite.

  4. Tony Says:

    Not a big fan of short stories, but I am interested in reading her books; I’ve heard good things about her novel too!

  5. Iris Says:

    I keep adding short story titles to my TBR list lately (while I never really read them before) and this one is no exception, thanks to your review.

  6. Michelle Says:

    I read this collection earlier this year. I’m not sure I loved it as much as you did, but her writing was really quite beautiful.

  7. itoeri Says:

    how sad how fast details slip away from mem ory. however i remember the air of her writing about the young couple and Mrs. Sen driving(wasn’t it?) now.
    i enjoyed “the namesake” too, straight after. i love stories that deal with the sense of being alien in a subtle way.

    have you read anything by zadie smith? ive read “the autograph man” (in japanese) and found her story really unique. so, amazoned “white teeth” and “on beauty” but they ve been on my bshelf for a few years..

    ive started “mosquito” today and am drawn into the setting with lush green and light of sri lanka.
    exuse to stay in all day ; )

  8. Mystica Says:

    Jhumpa Lahiri is intense and gets so much into the spirit of what she writes that its wonderful. So glad you started on this author.

    Happy Easter

  9. Vindi Says:

    Lahiri is truly a gifted writer, but having read The Unaccustomed Earth I find the predicaments she presents repetitive, but there’s no denying her talent.

    Have you read Lahiri’s Namesake? Both the book and film are among my favourites and is so beautifully and poignantly crafted it left me in tears at the end. Mrs. Sen’s character is echoed very strongly in Ashima in The Namesake, and I am certain you will enjoy it thoroughly if you haven’t read it already. Great review 🙂

  10. chasing bawa Says:

    Buried in Print: Especially if you’ve heard so much about the author and have been waiting for years to read her. I was actually a little scared that I might not like her stories, but her writing was really beautiful.

    Nymeth: We seem to have very similar taste!

    Tony: I know you like your books long and complicated! I’ve heard good things about her novel too.

    Iris: Any short story titles you think I might likes?

    Michelle: There were certain stories that didn’t resonate as much as others, but overall I was impressed with her collection. I read your review (in 2 parts, if I recall correctly) which was great, as usual!

    itoeri: I read White Teeth when it came out years ago and loved it. It was so different and fresh from everything else out there. And there was a two-part (I think) TV drama which was really good. I haven’t read The Autograph Man yet nor On Beauty (which my sis has, but I don’t think she finished it) so like you, I’ve been meaning to read them for ages. Let me know when you do! Also would like to know your thoughts on Mosquito.

    Mystica: Me too. I’m happy she has more books for me to read.

    Vindi: Maybe that’s the danger of short stories – that you tend to revisit old ground. I’ll have to read Unaccustomed Earth to see. I knew they filmed The Namesake but I haven’t seen it yet. I thought I’d wait until I read the book.


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