187 of 208 people found the following review helpful
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
93 of 106 people found the following review helpful
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.
40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
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!
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
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.
56 of 68 people found the following review helpful
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.
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
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.
32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
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.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 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.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2007
There is nothing that I can point to as terrible in this book, necessarily, other than to say that it never really did better than just OK. Each story has basically the same arc, the same generic characters, and the same tone. Once I had finished the first story I never felt anything different than when I finished any of the others, which was basically a ho-hum response.
There were two real problems I had, first being that there never was anything at stake, it was just quaint and nothing more. This might have been OK in a stand alone story, but with each successive piece I became more and more frustrated. The problems generally felt really minor, and never developed into something worth caring about. Yeah, the wife found some Christian symbols around the house, so what?
The second problem was the characters, who can basically be summarized as Indian and Muslim. Had this been written by a white person I might have accused them of relying too heavily on stereotypes, here I just blame a lack of imagination. Every story establishes right away that the characters are both, but I often wondered while reading if that even mattered. Imagine if in one story it said, "They were white Protestants," and another, "They were a non-religious black couple," would that have made a difference? How about if it didn't say anything at all, would you have been able to guess what they were supposed to be? In each story, I didn't think it would have changed how I read who or what they were as it never informed them or the story, nor did they seem to really grow beyond that basic description.
What bothers me the most about this book is the massive attention and accolades it has received despite not really being groundbreaking or moving. After reading all of the press and hearing from people (mostly those who had not read it) how good it was supposed to be, I finished the book feeling depressed that there are far better books out there that examined cultural identity and a sense of belonging that went unnoticed. There are some good images and writing in here, but it's nothing special.