04 May 2010

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies

Title:  Interpreter of Maladies
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Over and over again, Lahiri's work has been mentioned, reviewed, recommended, and praised. I, being practically unnatural, had never read a single word of hers, and honestly had never really heard of her before the blogging world.  But I finally have read Lahiri, and I must say I was not disappointed.

In general, I am not a huge fan of short stories.  I read and enjoy them from time to time, but I do not seek them out and 99.999% of the time, I much much prefer novels.  Actually, I tend to want short stories I enjoy to be turned into novels.  While this desire was not totally eliminated by Lahiri, it was definitely diminished.

Each story in this collection is moving, tragic, beautiful, and elegant in turn.  The collection features Indians both abroad and in India longing for personal connection and intimacy.  Despite the thematic similarity, each story is unique.  From a couple who has lost a child to a tour guide contemplating adultery to an old woman mourning the loss of her past, each tale challenges readers' emotions with evocative situations and imprecise morality.  I continually placed myself in the shoes of various characters and tried to determine how I would react to the situation, how I would feel.  And I think that's the beauty of these stories; even though these stories are ultimately heartbreaking, the thought-provoking quality keeps them from being just depressing.

"This Blessed House" was one of the most thought-provoking for me.  Twinkle and Sanjeev, newlyweds of an arranged marriage, have moved into a new home, and much to Twinkle's delight, Christian artifacts - of the tacky variety - keep popping up in unexpected places.  Sanjeev wants to just throw them out, but Twinkle has started a menagerie on the mantelpiece, has a larger than life poster of Jesus in her study, and kept a statue of the Virgin in the yard.  Sanjeev and Twinkle are two very different people, and the reader is continually reminded of how little they know each other, how little they are suited.

A happy ending would see these two divorced, finding a partner more their style and speed, but in this story [plot spoiler ahead] Sanjeev just gives in to Twinkle's more dominant, more free-spirited personality. There was something so tragic about this.  I could feel the Sanjeev's reluctant acceptance of his life, his resignation.

I will definitely be reading more Lahiri after this.  But first, I have Ishiguro's Nocturnes to read...

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Question:  How is it that we enjoy "depressing" stories?

FTC Disclosure:  Book number 6 from The Library.
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Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Hogwarts Reading Challenge,

18 comments:

  1. I'm the same way about Lahiri - I never heard about her until I started book blogging. I have several of her books on my shelf but have yet to read them.

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  2. I recently read a story from this collection -Heaven and Hell-on line at Dailylit.com-this story is very well described by your over view of her work-readers who want to read one of her stories for free will find it on Dailylit.com-I have also posted a review of the story on my blog-I once felt the precise way you do on short stories but am changing my mind as I read more of them-I enjoyed your post a lot

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  3. I'm so glad you liked this. I have it and it sounds good but I'm so anti-short story! But I suppose when I try just one, I'll be hooked!

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  4. Lahiri changed the way I think about short stories ... I was never a big fan but her short stories changed my mind. I personally liked her collection "Unaccustomed Earth" better than this one though.

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  5. great review! I haven't read Lahiri yet but after reading your review I definitely want to pick up a book!

    btw, i have an award for you
    http://anovelsource.blogspot.com/2010/05/aww-shucks.html

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  6. I've heard people say that Lahiri does short stories WAY better than novels. I tend to feel the same way as you about short stories, though, and I've therefore been too afraid to try this book (or Unaccustomed Earth) out. Since I loved the Namesake so much, and I'm not ready to potentially change my opinion of her.
    But it sounds like Lahiri might just pull off awesome short stories.

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  7. One of my best friends has been recommending this book to me for years and I've just never gotten around to it! Sounds like I need to!

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  8. I think Lahiri is the perfect author for those who aren't completely sold on short stories. I'm glad you enjoyed this so much!

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  9. I loved this set of short stories, me being of the "don't know if I love short stories". I have Unaccustomed Earth in my stack for the TBR Challenge, and I can't wait to read it.

    Interesting question though, about loving depressing stories. I've read books, Lahiri is a great example, where the stories are not uplifting, but are beautiful and have so much grace you love them anyway. Then there are others, like recently The Unnamed, where I really couldn't decide. Is it a mood? Is it the prose? I haven't figured it out yet.

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  10. Amanda - That makes me feel better. I thought I had to revoke my Reader Membership Card I was so out of the loop on her.

    mel u - Thanks for the praise. DailyLit is a good idea for short stories. Maybe I'll try reading them that way instead of in collections...

    Rhapsody - I think short stories take a special skill. One I don't have yet; but after reading Lahiri and Lanagan and Connelly, I'm thinking it's a skill worth knowing.

    Jenners - I will have to check it out. Learning to read short stories may be my summer goal.

    Stacy - Thanks for the award! And I would check Lahiri out, especially if you already like short stories.

    brizmus - I think short stories take a special skill. One I don't have yet; but after reading Lahiri and Lanagan and Connelly, I'm thinking it's a skill worth knowing.

    Jenny - I would give it a try for sure, especially if you already like short stories.

    Nymeth - I would agree. I think Lahiri was a good way to begin. I've already read Lanagan and Connelly - but I read those collections over a long period of time. I'm working on the right way to read a collection...

    Sandy - I think grace is a great word to use to describe the sensation I'm getting. While reading I'm melancholy (?) but the stories are still somehow enjoyable...

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  11. Lahiri's has an undeniable talent for writing short stories. I've read this collection as well as Unaccustomed Earth and her novel, the Namesake. All were wonderful, but she excels at giving glimpses into the characters' lives.

    I don't quite understand why we sometimes love to read depressing things, but I think it still depends on the talent of the writer. Without skill a depressing story is worse than a happy one, because it's badly written and you're sad for the people in the book. But when it's well written it somehow seems more profound than something that ends on an uplifting note. I have no idea why.

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  12. Like you, Trisha, I don't prefer short stories and rarely read them. However, after reading your review and Nymeth's comment, I am convinced I would love this book.

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  13. I've heard so many good things about this one that I definitely will plan to read it in the future.

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  14. Avid Reader - I think the word profound is very appropriate for what I was talking about.

    Stephanie - I think you should give it a try just to see. I still much prefer novels but it was an interesting experience.

    Kathleen - I would definitely give it a go.

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  15. i read The Namesake and enjoyed it. should probably give this a try.

    as for depressing things... i think it's nice to read about reality, good or bad. and writers, musicians, artists of all kinds naturally tend to feed on extreme emotions. the bad makes you appreciate the good.

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  16. I have only read The Namesake, which I enjoyed tremendously. It sounds like Lahiri has fused all the different elements in her short stories into this novel. I am too long of attention span for short stories, which often time prove to be lacking in depth for me. I want something much more developed.

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  17. Lisa - The bad does make you appreciate the good, and reality is both good and bad. Great points!

    Matt - I love the idea that the problem is having too long of an attention span. That makes an odd sort of sense with how I feel about short stories.

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  18. Must be an enjoyable read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

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