I was supposed to read Mistress for my last Expanding Horizons Challenge book. But I’ve had it on hold at the library for two months, and I just don’t think it’s coming (mostly because it’s currently listed as in the display case). So, I cast about looking for a last book to fill the Indian requirement, and my friend Sarah lent me this book.
For those of you (like me) not in the know: it’s a series of short stories written by Jhumpa Lahiri, an Indian-American. The stories feature people in various situations — dealing with death, with affairs, with tourists, with life — and places. Some are in America, some in India, some in England. One of the things that bothered me is that I kept trying to come up with some overarching theme, some reason why these stories were supposed to be together in a book. That was foolish of me (I don’t read enough short story collections): each story was meant to stand on it’s own, a little snapshot into the lives of the characters.
On the one hand, I loved this book. The prose is very eloquent (I can see why it won the Pulitzer Prize; it seems to be that sort of book), the images very picturesque. And yet, I felt on some level like it was calculated. It bothered me the same sort of way poetry bothers me — it’s beautiful, but I feel like I’m missing something. It’s like seeing a snapshot of an event versus experiencing the whole event. And, when I read at least, I often prefer the whole event to a little slice. I felt like I wanted more, needed more, and just when it was getting interesting, the story ended. That’s not to say I didn’t like the stories. “Mrs. Sen’s” was a very touching look at being an immigrant and adjusting to a new life in a new country. “This Blessed House” was amusing — a newly married couple kept finding Christian iconography (for lack of a better word) around their newly bought house — and an interesting look at the compromises people have to make when they get married. And, my favorite, ” The Third and Final Continent” was a nice portrait of a man’s immigrant journey and the people he encountered before and after arriving in the U.S. to settle. It’s also a glimpse into what the second immigrant generation loses.
Even though I wasn’t ultimately satisfied by it, it was a good read, something that I’m not sorry to spend my time on. Maybe one of these days, I’ll even “get” it.