I read a review of Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri on The Pulitzer Project. The next day, I saw it on display at the library. I hope reading a review of it prompts you to pick it up, too. It is an incredible collection of short stories.
Amazingly, this collection is the author’s first published book. It’s amazing to me because each story is completely captivating, with well-developed, believable characters—so well-written and creative that it won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2000. I want to write—reading this makes it seem like a near-impossibility. How does Lahiri do it so well?
The book contains nine short stories. In each story, one or more characters feel isolated as they search for their place. In “A Temporary Matter,” a man and a woman search for their place in their relationship after the still-birth of their child. In “Interpreter of Maladies,” a tour guide operator in India searches for his relationship to the world when he leads an Indian-American family on a tour. In “Mrs. Sens’”, Mrs. Sen feels isolated from her large extended family, who are in India, and she searches for a place in suburban America; the American boy she watches each afternoon is more at peace with his isolation.
Sadly, most of these stories end on a sad note as the characters reflect on their situations; most end with a sense of loss. The emotions are strong. I felt I needed a break after each story to reflect on the emotions I felt. And yet, I couldn’t wait to be drawn in to the next intricately developed story of isolation.
These stories help me reflect on my own situation: I live 16,000 miles from everyone in my family, just as Mrs. Sens does. But I don’t face differences in culture (suburban Melbourne isn’t all that different from suburban Chicago). How am I coping, and how can I nurture my relationships to avoid isolation? (In “Bless This House” the couple is newly wedded, but already the husband realizes he will be just as alone in his marriage as he was as a bachelor. I’ve been married for two years now. I think we’re doing OK thus far.)
I hope my ending is a bit happier, and I suspect it will be. But who around me might be feeling isolated? These characters were so real, I felt like they were living next door.
I love a book that makes me think and feel.