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An impressive and elegant debut collection of short fiction. Pulitzer worthy.

  • May 6, 2013
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Interpreter of Maladies is a remarkable first book that details the Indian-American immigrant experience as well as issues stemming from the process of Americanization and assimilation, for there are anxieties, bouts of loneliness to a plethora of other problems-and they are not always easily fixed-especially when it's with a wider mentality of "you" against the world and society.

Written with such pristine clarity, each story is quite capable of sweeping the reader away into the human experience of what it feels like to be an outsider trying to fit in. In other cases, there are stories detailing the lives of first generation Indian-Americans who want to keep their footing in their cultural roots. Yet, the navigation between the two landscapes often causes stressful situations, for what might be common in one country-particularly India-would not be typical in the other, notably the United States. It is a walk on a tight-wire between two different worlds. And that walk on the razor's edge between the inherited primitive and modernized new world is not always easily maintained, despite the best of efforts, for the protagonists always seem to be on the cusp of losing either one or the other. It is indeed a terrible Catch-22 predicament to find one's self in.

While all the stories in Interpreter of Maladies are of a high literary caliber, laced with a nuanced sensibility and a human touch for feeling, it's very difficult to just pick out one story and say that one or this one is the best of the rest, for each one has its own special offering, its own profound insight. While the majority of the characters are urban professionals and or academics or just family folks, single and otherwise, their situations have a common thread: the American dream and or the failure of it. But there is a culture clash at its root.

Of all the stories, a couple of my favorites were: This Blessed House, A Temporary Matter and A Real Durwan. The first tale is about a young couple named Sanjeev and Twinkle. In their new house, they are finding Christian parapfipnella left behind from an overzealous Christian couple. Twinkle wants to display the gaudy stuff while Sanjeev, who constantly reminds her that they are not Christian, gradually gets irked by her. You can't really tell if the relationship is gradually going into tatters due to Twinkle's spontaneity or a cultural rift that can't be mended. There is an ambiguity that leaves a reader guessing.

The second tale, A temporary Matter, details a marriage falling apart, the primary catalyst being the death of the couple's baby. Shoba was at one point a very loving and attentive wife. But when she had a stillborn child, she became increasingly hardened and aloof. Shukumar tries to recapture the sparks that initially brought them together, but it really is to no avail, for it is really his indifference to her grief that is pushing her away, not so much the loss of the baby. When they get a notice that their electricity will be shut off, they live for a while in darkness and reveal secrets to each other. However those secrets get larger and larger, and the rift between the two becomes increasingly apparent. While I thought this was one of the sadder stories in the collection, I thought it was impeccably well written and addressed with humane maturity.

Lastly, there is A Real Durwan, a tale about an elderly woman named Boori Ma who acts as a caretaker of the building in which she is allowed to live. She is shunned after a criminal happening in her building and is later cast out onto the Calcutta streets by the other tenants. She is always on the threshold of poverty and is discriminated against due to her storytelling prowess and limitedness or I should say, lifestyle primitiveness. I think this story best illustrates the crux of what Jhumpa Lahiri is trying to convey in Interpreter of Maladies, the humanness of all people from all ethnicities and from all backgrounds, poor, rich, all of it.

This was an amazing collection of simple short stories, beautifully written without being preachy or over-the-top. It was subtle yet not-too-subtle. And it was elegant without being flowery. It was just a pitch-perfect collection of stories that had depth and dissected a slice of American life that is not always looked at. Highly recommended!
An impressive and elegant debut collection of short fiction. Pulitzer worthy.

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More Interpreter of Maladies reviews
Quick Tip by . June 29, 2010
In truth, I'm not quite finished with the book, but the majority that I have read is fantastic.
Quick Tip by . June 18, 2010
Several great stories.
review by . January 08, 2009
This collection of nine stories was the choice for our January book club. Jhumpa Lahiri is a talented storyteller and the topic of "maladies," which is woven through each tale, made for interesting discussion. The stories are character-rich and are set in both India and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Regardless of the setting, Lahiri's description is filled with minute, sensory-oriented detail. The characters become three dimensional as they share what humors and ails them. All are …
review by . July 17, 2001
Interpreter of Maladies is a poignant collection of short stories. Written in a straightforward yet evocative prose, most of the stories are of bittersweet loss -- yet loss that is not catastrophic, but is instead almost nostalgic. All the stories interweave losses or troubles that all of us either face or can readily identify with, with a future that is happy -- happy in the normal, everyday sense that people are happy. (There are some exceptions to this.)And Lahiri does a excellent job of telling …
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Mr. Kapasi, the protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri's title story, would certainly have his work cut out for him if he were forced to interpret the maladies of all the characters in this eloquent debut collection. Take, for example, Shoba and Shukumar, the young couple in "A Temporary Matter" whose marriage is crumbling in the wake of a stillborn child. Or Miranda in "Sexy," who is involved in a hopeless affair with a married man. But Mr. Kapasi has problems enough of his own; in addition to his regular job working as an interpreter for a doctor who does not speak his patients' language, he also drives tourists to local sites of interest. His fare on this particular day is Mr. and Mrs. Das--first-generation Americans of Indian descent--and their children. During the course of the afternoon, Mr. Kapasi becomes enamored of Mrs. Das and then becomes her unwilling confidant when she reads too much into his profession. "I told you because of your talents," she informs him after divulging a startling secret.
I'm tired of feeling so terrible all the time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, I've been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better; say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.
Of course, Mr. Kapasi has no cure for what ails Mrs. Das--or himself. Lahiri's subtle, bittersweet ending is characteristic of the collection as a whole. Some of these nine tales are set in India, others in the United States, and most ...
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Books, Cafe Libri, Fiction, Pulitzer Prize, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Interpreter Of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

Details

ISBN-10: 039592720X
ISBN-13: 978-0395927205
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Mariner Books
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