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on 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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on November 20, 2003
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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VINE VOICEon 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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on 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.
These stories explore the psychological and spiritual fissures opened up by the cultural dissonance of our modern age, and, as such, should strike a chord with anyone dissatisfied with the complexity and shallowness of out modern lives. The ultimate value of these stories is that they offer a subtle critique of globalization.
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on April 19, 2000
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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on March 4, 2000
Jhumpa Lahiri writes with such vision and clarity of prose, it seems the stories she writes could not have been written another way. The stories and characters are so alive that I felt I was no longer reading, but rather witnessing them...standing just a few steps away from the characters.
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on April 7, 2000
This collection of stories taking place either in India or New England explores the differing ways people can be foreigners in strange or familiar ways and lands. Lahiri's eloquent storyweaving is full of humor and confusion, and is an utter joy to read. I look forward to a full novel by her.
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on April 13, 2002
I picked this up in Dubai and started reading one story.....just to pass the time in my hotel room.....and then I couldn't put it down until I'd finished the entire book.
I am not a big reader of short stories, prefering the longer journey of the novel. However, Ms. Lahiri is such a gifted writer I will gladly read anything she comes out with next.
The magic of this collection of stories is in how well drawn her characters are...she brings them to life, you understand their motivations, their choices, their story.....you don't feel as if they and you are simply being manipulated for the sake of a clever plot line the author wants to try out.
In fact, most of the stories are not exotic, outlandish, mawkish stories.....they are vignettes from everyday life. Observations of ordinary people whose ordinary lives become sweet and memorable under the careful scrutiny of the author. The lasting impression is a greater appreciation of our lives and the stories we live from day to day.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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on July 18, 2001
This is a wonderful set of stories.
When I first saw the title though, I wasn't sure I'd want to read a book called that. But then I heard about it winning the Pulitzer prize. And a few favorable comments finally swayed my decision.
Ms. Lahiri's talent is undeniably fine. With the opening sentences of the first story, I knew she had me. Certainly, the setting was not that extraordinary. And, the characters seemed like fairly average people. But her choice of words, the selection of details to emphasize, the clarity of her authorial voice -- all of these elements hooked me in.
Each of the stories here makes a remarkable impression. The themes underlie so much of our human experience and Ms. Lahiri's gentle telling never strains toward pontification. She makes the telling seem so natural, so easy. I am not one to think that reading should be a struggle -- an author should present a story so that one isn't puzzling out every detail. So, I appreciate that this writer did her job.
In reading these stories, we are given a chance to interpret their meanings and attempt to understand the characters and situations presented. There isn't anything which will change your life (that may be why some people are less impressed by this book -- they're expecting a lot since it has been a prize winner). But, it will give you something to think about, some fine stories to enjoy.
That is what for me makes this such an excellent book. The first stories I knew in life were ones which touched me and which I wanted to appreciate time and time again. This collection is like that.
It will definitely find a space on the shelf of books I return to.
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on April 28, 2000
I too wanted to love this book, and assumed I would, given the praise it has been given. I thought the first story, A Temporary Matter was excellent, but all the rest were predictable. I could anticipate what was going to happen before it did, giving me the odd feeling that I had somehow read these stories before. People talk about "workshop stories" and I have never been able to put my finger on what it is. I still have trouble defining what the problem is with this kind of story (and I graduated from a workshop myself) but now I realize that I know it when I read it. Perfectly fine stories, nicely written, but ultimately dull and uninspired, as if written from a recipe: add one conflict to one exotic setting, one case of infidelity, abuse, or angst, sprinkle with spare, clever writing and stir.
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