Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
Interpreter of Maladies – 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.
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.
The past few years have seen a number of fine writers springing from India–some living on the subcontinent and others, like the author of this collection of stories, who live elsewhere but whose work is still imbued with Indian culture and sensibilities. In varying degrees, Lahiri explores “Indianness” in all her stories, wherever they are set. Some, such as “A Real Durwan,” take place in urban settings in or near Calcutta. Others deal with immigrants at different stages on the road to assimilation. In “A Temporary Matter,” Lahiri’s sensitive and subtle portrayal of a troubled marriage, the fact that the couple is Indian seems almost incidental. In the title story, Mr. and Mrs. Das, both born in America, are taking their children to visit India for the first time. One of Lahiri’s gifts is the ability to use different eyes and voices. Readers who enjoy these stories should also appreciate the work of Bharati Mukherjee and G. S. Sharat Chandra’s collection Sari of the Gods, which was published last year. Mary Ellen Quinn
From Kirkus Reviews
India is an inescapable presence in this strong first collection’s nine polished and resonant tales, most of which have appeared in The New Yorker and other publications. Lahiri, who was born in London and grew up in Rhode Island, offers stories that stress the complex mechanics of adjustment to new circumstances, relationships, and cultures. Sometimes theyre narrated by outside observers like the flatmates of an excited (presumably epileptic) young woman cured by relations with men (in The Treatment of Bibi Haldar); the preadolescent American schoolboy cared for at Mrs. Sens, where the eponymous immigrant is tortured by the pressure of adapting to American ways; or, most compellingly, the Indian-American girl emotionally touched and subtly matured by the kindness her parents show to a Pakistani friend who fears for the safety of his family back home amid civil war (When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine). Richly detailed portrayals of young marriages dominate tales like that of an Indian emigrant’s oddly fulfilling relationship with his landlady, a bellicose centenarian (The Third and Final Continent); This Blessed House, in which the wedge afflicting a young couple is widened when they discover Christian paraphernalia left behind by their home’s former owners; and A Temporary Matter, which delicately traces how a pair of academics, continually mourning their stillborn baby, find in an exchange of confessions a renewal of their intimacy. Lahiri is equally skilled with more sophisticated plots, as in her title story’s seriocomic disclosure of a middle-aged tour guide’s self-delusive romance, or in the complexity of Sexy, about a young American woman whos fascinated not only by her married Bengali lover but by all other things Indianincluding the manner in which she is and isnt deflected from her passion by an afternoon with an Indian boy victimized by his own father’s infidelity. Moving and authoritative pictures of culture shock and displaced identity. — Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
“[Lahiri] announces herself as a wonderfully distinctive new voice. Indeed, Ms. Lahiri’s prose is so eloquent and assured that the reader easily forgets the ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ is a young writer’s first book…Ms. Lahiri chronicles her characters’ lives with both objectivity and compassion while charting the emotional temperature of their lives with tactile precision. She is a writer of uncommon elegance and poise, and with ‘Interpreter of Maldies’ she has made a precocious debut.” The New York Times
“Lahiri’s touch in these nine tales is delicate, but her observations remain damningly accurate, and her bittersweet stories are unhampered by nostalgia…” Publishers Weekly
“Lahiri’s touch is delicate yet assured, leaving no room for flubbed notes or forced epiphanies.” The Los Angeles Times
“Dazzling writing, an easy-to-carry paperback format and a budget-respecting price tag of $12: Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies possesses these three qualities, making it my book of choice this summer every time someone asks for a recommendation…Simply put, Lahiri displays a remarkable maturity and ability to imagine other lives…[E]ach story offers something special. Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies will reward readers.” USA Today
“[S]torytelling of surpassing kindness and skill.” The San Francisco Chronicle
“India is an inescapable presence in this strong first collection’s nine polished and resonant tales, most of which have appeared in The New Yorker and other publications.” Kirkus Reviews
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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