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Interpreter of Maladies Paperback – June 1, 1999
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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 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.
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by Jhumpa Lahiri
Rating: ***** (5 stars)
Book Length: 209 pages
Genre: Indian Fiction, Fiction, Litterature, Short Stories
Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories written by Jhumpa Lahiri. All the stories feature Indian characters. Most stories also include the complex dynamics between Indian culture and American culture. Although some stories are placed directly in India and focus more on the complexity within the Indian culture.
Lahiri's novel was a fascinating read. Each story was unique and beautifully written. I was captured from the beginning to the end. The characters were so well defined that I was able to not only picture them but to live behind their eyes. I felt the longing for a country that I have never even seen. I felt appreciation for community and togetherness that, as the author also illustrated, just doesn't exist in America. I also witnessed how two people who never met fell in love while another couple walked away from everything.
My favorite aspect of the book is the diversity of the stories and characters. Each story is unique and every character has their own story and personality. Everytime a story ended I was reluctant to leave their lives. I highly recommend that you pick this book up!
As reviewed on The Book Recluse Review.
The meaning of marriage is returned to over and over. The matter of love, the dislocation of the immigrant experience, the role of longing in life are all explored. The cruelty towards the dispossessed in India is addressed. The therapeutic nature of being able to love and care for someone is understood. The silliness of collecting religious artifacts without also understanding and accepting their spiritual foundation is exposed.
I do quarrel with one premise present in the story, "When Mr. Prizada came to dinner". The author appears to believe that learning about the American Revoluion in elementary school should give place to current event war. In her case, the 1971 Packistan civil war. This thinking, all too common among those who attended schools after mandatory courses in Civics were abolished, reveals a basic misunderstanding of the cause of the War of 1776. The American War was not based on religious animosity or ancient tribal hatreds, but on intellectual beliefs in the nature of and rights under British law. It is the only war, I know of where the men who began it pledged, "their lives, their property and their sacred honor" and where so many impoverished themselves in its pursuit. Ms. Lahiri's excellent education missed American history ( prior to its present "woe is me" incarnation).
With this objection aside, this is a surprisingly mature book and so beautifully written.
If you are not familiar with Indian culture, some of the stories, though readable, might be a bit unfamiliar. "A Real Durwan" is one of my favorites--the story of a poor woman who was dispossessed by the turmoil in Bangladesh. She talks about a lost life of luxury, and when things are suddenly looking up for this impoverished woman who is paid pennies to watch the front gate of a house, she suffers unthinkable loss from a cascade of events stemming simply from her employer's promotion. On each rung of the ladder, someone is reaching up an arm to pull you down a peg--and it happens with snake-like suddenness.
I love Lahiri's writing, not only because I love Indian writers but because she is a master of character development and surprise--as well as the stomach thump of inevitability. These are wonderful stories.
Each story gave you something to think about. I found the author to have great insight into her characters and I would have a different reaction to each one. Some made me sad, others, more angry at injustices. I would not call the stories happy, especially when they could have been. It was a melancholy and extremely thought provoking book.