Thursday, July 30, 2009

Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri

This collection of short stories was my official selection for the 4R's Challenge, recommended by Kristen @ Booknaround and Violet Crush. I had mentioned in my thread that I was on the inept end of the spectrum with regards to the short story genre, and this was the recommendation they bestowed upon me. What made this suggestion even more serendipitous was the fact that I already had it on my list, mentioned months ago by C.B. James. I just couldn't pass it up.

I certainly had heard plenty about the author, Jhumpa Lahiri. This novel, her first, won the Pulitzer in 2000. Can you imagine coming out of the gate and nabbing that award? Or even better yet, writing your second novel, and hoping to match up to the first? You may recall her second novel, The Namesake, was made into a wonderful film a couple of years ago. This girl sets the standard, that is for sure. But I had no idea what to expect when I cracked open the first page. What I found was a group of nine gentle, easy-to-read stories about persons of Indian descent, in various stages of disenchantment, personal growth and discovery, and hope for the future. Where I found the collection of short stories from Say You're One of Them hard to take and without a ray of sunshine, this one delivered the goods. Here are a couple of stories that I especially enjoyed:

In the story entitled "Interpreter of Maladies", a tour guide escorts an American family with Indian ancestory around India to see a few sights. The family is your basic dysfunctional, narcissistic mess, but when the wife pays some special attention to the guide, he swiftly starts to fantasize about his future with her. He comes back around at the end of the story after a traumatic incident reveals the woman's true colors. The author's ability to create such vivid, flawed characters in a handful of pages was a delight. And unlike some short stories, you really weren't left wanting more. This was all you really needed to know.

In "The Third and Final Continent", a young Indian man arrives in America ahead of his new wife to establish himself. He rents a room from a difficult centenarian, lives on corn flakes, and studiously learns American slang. Lahiri delicately unfolds the life of an honorable, determined immigrant who struggles to get to know the stranger that is his wife, and a country that is vastly different than his own, all without complaint. He takes nothing for granted, for this is the American dream, and instills these values in his son. The story is precious, and is a reminder of the ideals and principals on which this country was founded.

From these stories, it is easy to establish that Lahiri is a student of the human condition. The difficulties between man and wife, noise that distracts from one's culture and religion, the need for acceptance and love, the desire to be attractive, the importance of respecting our elders, the feeling of isolation in a foreign matter what the topic, Lahiri portrays it with elegance and grace. This is truly a work of art.

Thanks again, Kristen, Violet Crush and C.B. James! I look forward to the next round of the 4R Challenge!

5 out of 5 stars


Melody said...

I haven't read a good short story collection for a while... and now you all have introduced this great book to me! What's more it won a Pulitzer Prize! I'm sold!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you liked it. I have her other book Unacustomed Earth on my shelf and hopefully it would be as good.

This also reminds me that I have to complete this challenge.

Beth F said...

I haven't yet read Lahiri. Sounds like I should correct that.

Unknown said...

This is high on my list, but for some reason never makes it to the top. I'll read it some time soon.

Is that 5/5 part of your new stricter rating system?!!!

Lauren said...

Excellent review! I read the book a few years ago and definitely I agree with what you said. I must admit, though, "Interpreter of Maladies" really depressed me at times. Some of the stories were incredibly...sad. Maybe I just read into them too much.

If you liked this, check out her 2nd book "The Namesake." I really adored it - and the movie, by far, doesn't live up to the book. (Even if Kal Penn was kinda cute in it)

Iliana said...

This is one of the best short story collections I think I've ever read. Really enjoyed it and now I want to read her latest book!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Melody - yeah, this one is a good bet. If you need a short story for a challenge, this would be the one to pick!

Violet - and thanks for the recommendation! I'll have to remember her other book, plus The Namesake. She is a brilliant writer.

Beth - I was quite charmed!

Jackie - haha! You are messing with my rating system girl! But I would still stand by my 5 stars on this one. It is an excellent read.

Lauren - There were a couple that left me feeling sad, but overall I found hope in most of them. I will try The Namesake!

Iliana - I'm not big on short story collections; I just don't have much experience. But this was a great one to start with!

Unknown said...

See. You do like short stories.

Glad to hear you enjoyed this collection. I think you're right about Lahiri being a student of the human condition. In the end, that's what makes her stories hit home so often.

Sandy Nawrot said...

James - I know! Isn't it exciting? I will never be afraid of them again!

Serena said...

wow, that would be something getting such a prize for a first book, but then wouldn't you wonder what to do would you top yourself?

Sounds like a good short story collection. I will have to keep any eye out for it.

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

I, too, was afraid of the short story until about a year ago. They can be marvelous, can't they?!

I haven't yet read this collection (but it's steadily making its way up the wish list!)

ds said...

Well done, Sandy! I loved "The Third and Final Continent" too. I think you caught Lahiri's writing--and spirit--perfectly.

Ana S. said...

I absolutely loved this collection! Must get my hands on Unaccustomed Earth.

Darlene said...

I listened to this on audio and I really enjoyed it.

Anna said...

Wow. You've definitely made me want to dust this one off. It's been on my shelf for quite some time. Great review.

Diary of an Eccentric

Melissa said...

I really enjoy short stories that tell a complete story. I had being given a glimpse, but not a complete picture.

I started listening to Unacustomed Earth on audio, but it wasn't really catching my attention. Maybe I wasn't in the mood, or maybe these work better in print.