Interpreter of Maladies

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.

8 thoughts on “Interpreter of Maladies

  1. Oh, my. You perfectly described why I don’t like short stories. I always want an overarching theme, and I always want more than just a snapshot. And I always feel like I’m missing something (poetry too). 😛


  2. I read this a few years back but I remember really liking it. I get what you mean about short stories though, and I don’t read very many. I would be interested to know if you like The Namesake better.


  3. I quote you on everything. I’ve read and reviewed this book over the end of 2007 and while I am not a lover of short stories (and never will be), I am in love with Lahiri’s writing. BTW, “The Third and Final Continent” was also my favourite!I was looking forward to reading your thoughts on Mistress, I hope you are not giving up on that one.


  4. Oh, Julie, thanks! I’m SO glad I’m not the only one. (I always am.)Tricia, I do like Lahiri’s writing, and I was intrigued by The Namesake movie, so maybe I’ll give the book a go. And Francesca, I’ll get around to reading Mistress as soon as the library decides to take it out of the display case. 🙂


  5. I loved that book! I think that it works for me because her writing style lingers lovingly on great details and the short story form is a wonderful way to focus in on small details and metaphor and imagery. It concentrates it, I think. Doesn’t mean everyone is going to enjoy it though 🙂


  6. Short stories very much seem a love or hate genre. Personally, I adore short stories and currently am reprimanding myself that I <>still<> haven’t read IoM (though I did pick up a copy of Lahiri’s latest collection).


  7. I haven’t read this one yet (I’m not a huge fan of short stories) but I really enjoyed The Namesake, you should check it out!I’ll be lucky if I read 3 of my 6 challenge books by the end of this month!


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