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Interpreter of Maladies [Kindle Edition]

Jhumpa Lahiri
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (759 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

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
165 of 185 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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87 of 98 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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51 of 59 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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34 of 38 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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Pulitzer prize for THIS ? November 1, 2001
I enjoyed most of the short stories in this collection. Two of them, although not including the one that gave this collection its' title, were excellent. It was an excellent book for the daily train commute or the 15 minutes before bed time. I find it more than astonishing, however, that it was awared the Pulitzer Prize. It simply does not belong in that category.
The collection contains nine stories each of about 20 pages. The stories all involve Indian characters or characters of Indian heritage, sometimes in India, sometimes in Ameirica. This is a useful plot device to portray stories of isolation and disorientation that can be felt by people who have never even left home. These are not, however, immigrant stories. They are stories of people, and love, and life. They are good stories but they are still only short stories. There is not room for complicated character development or plot twists.
I can find no record of any collection of short stories ever winning a Pulitzer Prize. Why this book ? Was the multi-cultural nature of the book just too politically correct to pass up ?
It is a good book and it is worth a read, but it's no Pulitzer Prize winner.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars REPLACEMENT REQUIRED!
I could not commence listening to the audio book as the first two cd's were blank. Please would you replace them or the full audio book.
Published 1 day ago by Adrian
3.0 out of 5 stars A very successful collection that looks into the lives of...
This was a very successful debut by this Indian-American writer, winning her a Pulitzer Prize among other accolades, and putting her on the literary map in a big way. Read more
Published 2 days ago by T. Burrows
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful stories
I loved these stories. I read them after The Namesake and I'm happy I did. They filled in some pieces I might not have understood had I read them in the order they were written. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Bill
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great collection of short stories!
Published 5 days ago by Vivek Supnekar
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT SELECTION
Each story better than the preceding one. It was a joy from beginning too end. Will definitely read more of Lahiri.
Published 7 days ago by David J. Arnold
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful, sad and funny
Read for a creative writing class- great craft, depictions of Indian culture and its contrast of the Western world. I wish i could write like this!
Published 8 days ago by DoodleWack
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book easy read . Not sure i agree it deserves a pulitzer prize???
Published 10 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A beautifully written book. Well worth the sojourn into Indian life.
Published 10 days ago by Beejay
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great. used for school. I highly recommend this book.
Published 11 days ago by Rexis
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderful, prose perfect. Great reading.
Published 12 days ago by l.bamberger
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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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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
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
I was left wanting more out of this book of short stories Be the first to reply
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