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Interpreter of Maladies [Kindle Edition]

Jhumpa Lahiri
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (844 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Navigating between the Indian traditions they've inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri's elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In "A Temporary Matter," published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant. She is an important and powerful new voice.

Editorial Reviews Review

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 concern characters of Indian heritage. Yet the situations Lahiri's people face, from unhappy marriages to civil war, transcend ethnicity. As the narrator of the last story, "The Third and Final Continent," comments: "There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept." In that single line Jhumpa Lahiri sums up a universal experience, one that applies to all who have grown up, left home, fallen in or out of love, and, above all, experienced what it means to be a foreigner, even within one's own family. --Alix Wilber

From Publishers Weekly

The rituals of traditional Indian domesticityAcurry-making, hair-vermilioningAboth buttress the characters of Lahiri's elegant first collection and mark the measure of these fragile people's dissolution. Frequently finding themselves in Cambridge, Mass., or similar but unnamed Eastern seaboard university towns, Lahiri's characters suffer on an intimate level the dislocation and disruption brought on by India's tumultuous political history. Displaced to the States by her husband's appointment as a professor of mathematics, Mrs. Sen (in the same-named story) leaves her expensive and extensive collection of saris folded neatly in the drawer. The two things that sustain her, as the little boy she looks after every afternoon notices, are aerograms from homeAwritten by family members who so deeply misunderstand the nature of her life that they envy herAand the fresh fish she buys to remind her of Calcutta. The arranged marriage of "This Blessed House" mismatches the conservative, self-conscious Sanjeev with ebullient, dramatic TwinkleAa smoker and drinker who wears leopard-print high heels and takes joy in the plastic Christian paraphernalia she discovers in their new house. In "A Real Durwan," the middle-class occupants of a tenement in post-partition Calcutta tolerate the rantings of the stair-sweeper Boori Ma. Delusions of grandeur and lament for what she's lostA"such comforts you cannot even dream them"Agive her an odd, Chekhovian charm but ultimately do not convince her bourgeois audience that she is a desirable fixture in their up-and-coming property. Lahiri's touch in these nine tales is delicate, but her observations remain damningly accurate, and her bittersweet stories are unhampered by nostalgia. Foreign rights sold in England, France and Germany; author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 704 KB
  • Print Length: 198 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (May 22, 2000)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003K16PBE
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,951 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
183 of 203 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Story telling at its best... June 26, 2000
I loved reading Jhumpa Lahiri's 'Interpreter of Maladies'.
Being an Indian myself, I'm tired of reading books that package India's 'exoticism' to the West. Jhumpa Lahiri's stories do not revolve around the "Indianness" of the characters.India is always in the background, but the characters and their emotions are simply human.
In the 'Interpreter of Maladies', Ms. Lahiri's breathtakingly beautiful, yet simple style of storytelling tells you a story about people who just happen to be Indian.The narrative she employs is very humane, with a lot of attention to detail. The stories are strong and delicate at the same time.
I particularly enjoyed the title story 'Interpreter of Maladies' and the last story 'The Third and Final continent'.
Another aspect of her writing I particularly liked is that she doesn't drown the story in style. The narrative occupies centerstage and the story telling is natural, not contrived.
Looking forward to her next book
Mekhala Vasthare
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93 of 106 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Defining moments November 20, 2003
By S. Park
Structure-wise the book is a showcase of point of views, which makes one feel as if the book was intended as a study on writing styles. Stories are written in the first person voice (as a Indian girl, as a just married Indian man), in third person voice, and as an intrusive author (in "the treatment of Bibi Haldar"). Events mostly take place in the greater Boston area (which may explain the book's popularity in New England) and Bengal, India. The WSJ review on the back cover is misleading in that not all stories concern immigrants (two short stories concern Indians living in India). However each story has at least one Indian protagonist.
The stories concern snapshots of lives, defining moments of characters. By "defining moments" I do not mean anything grand. These are moments that occur in everyday life, events so banal that they seem negligible at first sight. Yet those moments impact the protagonists in the way that life becomes no longer the same for them. By confessing that their miscarried baby was a boy over a forced (the electricity went out) candle-light dinner, a deteriorating marriage is salvaged (in "a temporary matter"); a seven year old boy's compliment "you are sexy" induces her relationship with a married man to end (upon hearing it she suddenly realizes she is not unique -- in "sexy").
Lahiri is a meticulous writer. You will almost be able to smell her egg curries and feel her bright colored saris. But it is really her quiet, suggestive prose that makes one want more.
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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't read this review, read the book April 19, 2000
By Ishmael
I don't want to give five stars to Jhumpa Lahiri because I feel that if I do, there will be no place left for improvement (not that there is). "Interpreter of Maladies" is probably one of the best short story collections I have ever read in my life. Unlike many of my other favorite authors (let's say Marquez), Lahiri is consistent in her quality of writing throughout the book. At a first glance her themes seem very commonplace, but her language is so eloquent, her sense of mood and detail so subtle, that everything simple turns into profound. The next day I had finished reading Lahiri's book, she won the Pulitzer Prize -- but again, who cares. The only thing that matters to me is that Lahiri has given me a new hope in modern literature. Enjoy!
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54 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Subtle Critique of Globalization May 7, 2001
Jhumpa Lahiri is an ethnic Bengali writer, born in London. brought up in America, who writes in English. As someone caught between the rootless culture of the modern developed world and the more tradition-bound culture of India, she is well positioned to exploit that vague sense of unease that we feel when we turn our back on our roots and traditions.
The short stories collected in this Pulitzer Prize-winning volume focus on different aspects of the modern Indian experience. Stories like "Sexy" and "This Blessed House" deal with Filofax-toting, young Indian professionals, apparently successful in the academic or computer fields in the USA, but nevertheless unsure of themselves and spiritually cast adrift in their adopted country. Often a contrast is made between traditional lifestyles, which, although far from perfect, seem somehow more real than modern ones. This echoes the way Chekhov used to juxtapose the hollow, glittery lives of the Russian bourgeoisie with the earthy lives of the peasants.
In "Mrs Sen's" the painstaking method of preparing proper Indian meals, involving a litany of vegetables, is seen through the eyes of a young white boy whose single mother is too busy to look after him. But Lahiri is a good enough writer not to commit herself to narrow cliches about a 'spiritually vacuous West' or a 'soulful India.' Her stories set in the Subcontinent, like "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar," show how superstitious and narrow-minded such societies can be regarding illness and the need for marriage. The women in "This Blessed House" and "A Temporary Affair," by contrast, seem liberated by their lives in America.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-deserved Pulitzer December 15, 2002
It's hard to believe that "Interpreter of Maladies" is a first book, it is so beautifully and subtly written. Lahiri reveals the deepest feelings, emotions and motivations of her characters seemingly effortlessly; with a few simple startling details she suddenly reveals all.
I loved "Mrs. Sen" for example. An American boy goes to the house of an Indian woman every day after school until his mother returns from work. Nothing seems very remarkable until one day Mrs. Sen looks up and asks if "I began to scream right now at the top of my lungs would someone come?" Suddenly we realize the despair and loneliness of a woman far from home, struggling to adapt, who longs for nothing more than a fresh fish to cook. And immediately after this outburst the young boy thinks of his own home, and Labor Day, and a party he and his mother did not attend. In a few quick sentences we realize that Mrs. Sen and Elliot's mother share similar fates, are equally isolated and alone. But in this sad story neither is redeemed.
Even more sad, in a very different way, is "A Real Durwan," the story of an irritable old woman in Calcutta who nevertheless becomes part of a community by her helpfulness, until a scapegoat is needed and she is expelled. How cruel human beings can be to the weak!
I also liked "This Blessed House", a wonderful story about the bewilderment of a man who has entered into an arranged marriage and starts discovering the woman who is his wife--we read a lot about such marriages from the woman's point of view, but what about the man's? It is only through the eyes of friends at a party that he sees his wife as she is and love begins to grow.
There's nothing dramatic about the plots here, no twists and turns and surprises. Just wonderful writing and powerful glimpses into the heart.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful characters.
I was impressed that such a young lady had written such wonderful short stories. I fell in love with all the characters in all the stories and I was unhappy when the book ended. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Nancy J. Llewellyn
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
She is such a great writer.
Published 2 days ago by Maureen Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I really enjoy stories about different cultures.
Published 2 days ago by David A. Loiterman, M.D.
5.0 out of 5 stars and it is obvious that things have not changed for the better. They’ve...
In the first story, titled, A Temporary Matter, we meet Shoba and Shukumar a young couple living in Boston. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Tembe
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stories!
Great book very touching. I really enjoyed the short stories. Thank you. I really recommend this book.
I know you will like it.
Published 5 days ago by Ted
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent. Price, book, shipping. A++++**
Published 9 days ago by Lusine
5.0 out of 5 stars Short stories of Indian wonders
These are beautifully written short stories that leave you wanting to know more about the characters. What happens next? The best type of short stories, I think, always do. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Opera Diva 1967
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 24 days ago by Kiki
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderful short stories. Touching, intelligent.
Published 24 days ago by Virginia B.
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Author
Very good writing! A delight to read these short stories. Especially liked the last two.
Published 25 days ago by Dale Lund
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More About the Author

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London and raised in Rhode Island. Her debut, internationally-bestselling collection, Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the PEN/Hemingway Award, The New Yorker Debut of the Year award, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Addison Metcalf Award, and a nomination for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It was translated into twenty-nine languages. Her first novel, The Namesake, was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and selected as one of the best books of the year by USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. Her second collection, Unaccustomed Earth, was a #1 New York Times bestseller; named a best book of the year by The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, among others; and the recipient of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Lahiri was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002 and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2012.

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Mrs Sen story ending
I agree with Heather. As I understood it, Mrs. Sen is mourning the loss of her (for lack of a better word) community - her extended family, friends, culture, and, thus, her sense of identity. In addition to letters and the cassette tape her family made for her before she left, the endless... Read More
Dec 20, 2008 by lynnabeana |  See all 3 posts
Women are second-rate writers
Only a second rate mind would think or believe that.
Feb 3, 2013 by K. B. Merrill |  See all 4 posts
I was left wanting more out of this book of short stories Be the first to reply
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