Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Amazing, fantastic, extraordinary – there aren’t enough superlatives for this one!
Interpreter of Maladies is a book collection of nine short stories by Indian American author Jhumpa Lahiri published in 1999. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in the year 2000 and has sold over 15 million copies worldwide. It was also chosen as The New Yorker’s Best Debut of the Year and is on Oprah Winfrey’s Top Ten Book List.
I picked this book at Delhi Airport to read through for my boring journey to Chennai. The author exhibits her majestic power of storytelling with such grace and appeal that the most wonderful thing happened to me in that journey. I seemed to have lost the sense of ‘time’ while reading this splendid portrayal about the lives of Indians and Indian Americans who are caught between their roots and the “New World.”
Some of the stories were brilliant, some were very good and only a couple were meh.
I will review all the nine stories here:
A TEMPORARY MATTER is about an Indian-American couple whose relationship is almost on the verge of break due to the stillbirth of their first child. They then take the opportunity of several power outages to try and rekindle their relationship. The writing is utterly delicious, descriptive yet concise, clever yet reader-friendly. It is in my opinion the strongest story in this collection with a heartbreaking end.

WHEN MR. PIRZADA CAME TO DINE is about the war between East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and India, but viewed thousand of miles away in America through the lens of an Indian-American family and their Pakistani friend (Mr. Pirzada). It’s also a reflective (and informative) work on cultural differences in the US, and all in all, I found it to be quite a brilliant read.

In the title story, INTERPRETER OF MALADIES , Mr. Das was a compelling figure. He had gained this title in his town in India, where he was employed by a physician translating Gujarati to the doctor in attendance. Without his expertise, these patients would be unable to find appropriate assistance or care for their problems. At other times, Mr. Das was a tour guide. During one trip with an American family, he became unrealistically enamored with the wife. It was interesting to observe how this situation was resolved.
A REAL DURWAN: I found this story about an old woman who is ill-treated by the residents of the building she works in as a sweeper. Madam writer has masterfully portrayed, how mean people can be but then again there’s nothing new here. I was able to sense the end in the middle of the story.

SEXY explores the mind of Miranda, the main character who is an American, dating a married Indian man and what it means for her to be his mistress. Again, there’s a lot of repressed feelings and introspection going on here, and if you’re hoping for a sweet little ending all tied up with a lovely bow… well, you’ll be disappointed.

MRS. SEN’S is my favorite story of the collection. It’s about an Indian-American woman (Mrs. Sen) who takes care of a young boy (Eliot) during the day when his mother is at work. The writing is perfect and polished, subtly tackling the cultural differences that exist between “mainstream Americans” and “not-quite-fully-assimilated” Indian-Americans. Lahiri conveys so much in this story without ever stating it on the page that the word “telepathy” comes to mind.

THIS BLESSED HOUSE is about a newly married Indian-American couple who keep discovering catholic stuff in the house they just bought and moved in. The husband isn’t sure about his feelings for his wife, who’s as innocent and naïve as a child. Good but not great.

THE TREATMENT OF BIBI HALDAR deals with an Indian girl in India whose “strange disease” has rendered her kind of antisocial and unfit to marry, which is a shame as the treatment of her disease, according to doctors, consists in her getting married (?!). I really liked this one, and for once, I find the ending satisfactory, if not at all what I expected. It also gives a nice (and sad) insight into Indian marital traditions, superstitions and caste-related beliefs that, apparently, are still very much relevant nowadays in India.

THE THIRD AND FINAL CONTINENT tells the story of an Indian immigrant to America. Narrated in the first person, it concludes the collection nicely.

While I was not able to relate to or identify with everything that goes on this collection of stories, there is a sense of universality in there, a set of feelings that we all can remember one way or another. It might be a feeling of love or of disappointment, a feeling of not quite fitting in or the feeling of finally finding a place where you feel comfortable, a feeling of loss, of nostalgia, of new possibilities. The way Lahiri writes is beautiful and easy to read. she brings the ordinariness of life alive through her words. I simply loved this book and will recommend on a higher notch.
My ratings 4.5/5

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