Saturday, January 30, 2010

Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri

Rating: 10/10

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! :)


JoAnn said...

I absolutely loved Interpreter of Maladies, and especially the stories you mentioned. Just wait until you read Unaccustomed Earth... it is even better!! I also read The Namesake several year ago and liked it, but it wasn't nearly as memorable as Lahiri's short stories.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read any of these. I'm always looking for good short stories so I will have to look into this particular collection. What a nice review!

Booksnyc said...

I loved the Interpreter of Maladies - reading it actually changed my mind on short stories. Previous to reading it, I shied away from short stories because I always felt they ended just as I was getting into the characters and stories - she is so skilled in writing short stories that they always seem just right. And I agree with Jo Ann - wait until you read Unaccustomed Earth!

Tanu said...

I loved your review and agree with you 100% about this being a great book. I have read all her works and now if I can just get my hands on her articles from NY Times.

Alyce said...

I haven't read any of her writing, but seeing your glowing review is enough to interest me in her writing. I am usually only drawn to short stories that have some sort of sci-fi element, but I will definitely consider these because of your recommendation.

Kals said...

JoAnn - If Unaccustomed Earth is even better than this magnificent book, that is saying something! I hope to read it soon :)

Old Bookworm - I'd definitely recommend Lahiri. She's worth a read :) Thanks!

Booksync - I'm totally like that with regards short stories too! Recommendations are pouring in for Unaccustomed Earth and I'm looking forward to reading it :)

Tanu - Thank you! I'd love to read her articles too. She's a skilled writer!

Alyce- I hope you check Lahiri's books and like them. She's definitely an author worth reading :)

Paperback Reader said...

Mrs Sen's was so unbearably poignant.

I loved this book and have a copy of Unaccustomed Earth to read next. Lahiri's writing is so beautiful.

I love how you enthused about this collection and so pleased that they touched you too.

Veens said...

I loved Unaccustomed Earth and I always wanted to read this one as well!

I will definitely pick this up nxt!

Anonymous said...

I read this one some time back, and I have forgotten most of the details.

What I do remember is loving it at that time :)

I too am not a big fan of short stories, but when done right, they can be sublime

Kals said...

Claire - Thank you! I totally enjoyed the book :)

Veens - Yet another reco for Unaccustomed Earth. Sounds really exciting!

Nishita - True..this is done exceptionally well and it works :)

SANDEEP said...

I bought this book at recent book fair and found it is very interesting.Specially the focus on details and the way of presentation.I guess titled story is the best one ,but i can't understand "Mrs. SEN's" and idea author want to portray with it. Overall i found it is worth reading of your time.


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