Thursday, October 23, 2008

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, 1999
A Collection of Short Stories, 198 pages
Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Company

Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Hemingway Award.

Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri’s first book, is a collection of short stories depicting the lives of Indians or Indian immigrants. Some may immediately wonder how they could relate to the stories or characters. You may not to them individually, but what you will find is that the themes are universal thus eliminating such a concern.

“A Temporary Matter” centers on a couple estranged by the loss of a child:

But nothing was pushing Shukumar. Instead he thought of how he and Shoba had become experts in avoiding each other in their three-bedroom house, spending as much time on separate floors as possible.
“Sexy” about a woman having an affair with a married man and coming to terms with the choices she’s made:
There was no reason to put it on. Apart from the fitting room at Filene’s she had never worn it, and as long as she was with Dev she knew she never would. She knew they would never go to restaurants, where he would reach across a table and kiss her hand. They would meet in her apartment, on Sundays, he in his sweatpants, she in her jeans.
“Mrs. Sen’s” showing the hardships faced emotionally by someone having to adjust to a new life. One in a country where there is little to connect to on any level as there is no immediate family or a community of those with similar backgrounds to lean upon for support, thus the homesickness felt is as much as any one person can bear:
Mrs. Sen took the aerogram from India out of her purse and studied the front and back. She unfolded it and reread it to herself, sighing every now and then. When she had finished she gazed for some time at the swimmers.

“My sister has had a baby girl. By the time I see her, depending if Mr. Sen gets his tenure, she will be three years old. Her own aunt will be a stranger. If we sit side by side on train she will not know my face.”
There are nine stories in total and in each one there was always some aspect that touched me in some way that I could not picture myself, or anyone I know, caught up within those same circumstances and possibly having the same responses. I can say in truth, that I did not understand every nuance in some of the stories, as understanding the culture would have been helpful. But really, it does not detract from the enjoyment I had in reading this book. In fact, it was the first one I completed when participating in the recent Read-A-Thon.

As I stated in an earlier post, this book has got to be one of the better Pulitzer Prize Winners I have read in some time. In addition, I have not read many Short Story collections this year even though I had planned to.

I am glad I decided that this should change. This was a wonderful book and will be a nice addition to my personal library.

For this reason I am giving it 5 stars and a definite ‘must read’ recommendation.

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