Review: Jhumpa Lahiri's Pultizer-winning collection of nine short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, is easily one of the best books written on the subject of Indians abroad, the inevitable clash of culture and the longing for 'home'.
I've read Lahiri's Namesake and loved it. But Interpreter of Maladies is far superior, because of the various angles of being Indian abroad that Lahiri tackles, with great skill and finesse. I'm not exactly the greatest fan of short stories because I've felt that it takes a long novel to involve me emotionally. But that's not the case here. Most of the stories immediately strike an emotional chord and some, brought me to tears.
I think the best thing about Lahiri's writing is that it seems effortlessly simple. She has the ability to create images with her words and has a great eye for detail that makes her writing unforgettable. The importance given to food in her writing is also fascinating. For instance, the image of Mrs. Sen chopping vegetables neatly still lingers in my mind, as does the image of Lilia munching the candy Mr. Pirzada gives her everyday!
A frequent argument I've heard about Interpreter of Maladies is that it is a more Bengali than Indian representation of life abroad. While it's undeniably true that these stories have a major Bengali side to it, I think the beauty of being Indian is that while customs, states and religions differ, the emotion is still very much the same. And that's exactly why this book really moved me.
While all the stories in the book were fascinating in their own way, my favourite three stories are Mrs. Sen's, When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine and Sexy, in that order. Mrs. Sen's is the most tragic story of the collection and it brought me to tears. Lahiri's writing is phenomenal as she brings to life the character of a woman longing for home, her India, her family, her food. Great stuff and easily one of the best stories I've ever read.
When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine fascinated me because I've read a lot about the 1971 war and this angle to the birth of Bangladesh, was a satisfying read and again, as seems to be the case with Lahiri, an emotional ride. Sexy, the story of a Bengali man's affair with an American woman, who learns about him, his country and its people, is very beautifully written. I particularly loved how most of the characters are redeemed, without making it seemed forced.
In all, Lahiri is definitely one of my favourite authors and definitely among the best Indian writers of today. I'm looking forward to reading Unaccustomed Earth soon!
P.S. Sorry for the long post, but I loved the book and couldn't stop writing about it! I'm missing out on a lot of blog posts and my reader is overflowing with posts I need to read. I hope to get back to blogging as usual, in a few weeks :) I'm now caught in a Bengali-author reading spree, I think: I'm reading I Won't Let You Go, a collection of Rabindranath Tagore's poems translated by Ketaki Kushari Dyson and I'm loving it so far! :)