Title: Interpreter of Maladies
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date published:May 22, 2000
Page Count: 198
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.
Jhumpa Lahiri effortlessly draws you in to each of her characters’ stories. Each story is around 20-30 pages; enough to make readers invested in the characters and just enough to leave them wanting more. I was so absorbed into many of the characters’ stories and saddened when they ended. The interesting thing was that their lives were quite ordinary and like any that you might find. Yet, she brings in so much reflection and introspective thoughts, that she makes what seem like insignificant details add so much value to the story. The writing was flawless, as you might expect.
Some books are stunning be being able to put you into a haze or reading bubble that is only unique to that book. The Interpreter of Maladies does just that. When I pick up the book, I can see the colours of the vermilion on Mrs.Sen’s hands, taste the cinnamon hearts from Mr Pirzada, feel myself walking down the Charles River that is aligned with Victorian houses, one of them being Mrs. Croft’s.
The book is a collection of snippets of people’s lives and I found that the plethora of cultural references to India really enhanced the read. I enjoyed learning about the food they cooked, the pigments of a sari, and the little things that each character did that was uniquely Indian. I think the little things were what managed to bring each narrator and the people in the story to life.
Given that it’s a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Interpreter of Maladies was no doubt an amazing read, with beautiful writing and brilliant storytelling. This was my first time reading Lahiri’s work and will not be the last.
Fun fact: I got this book during MIT’s pre-frosh club’s fair at their literature courses booth. Afterwards, I realized that Lahiri graduated from Boston College, and she happened to like mentioning MIT (and sometimes Harvard) in her short stories. After all, you can’t have Cambridge, Massachusetts without its colleges.