Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Summary from Goodreads:

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. She is an important and powerful new voice.

Belonging and displacement in marriage and immigrant life. This is a prevalent theme in Interpreter of Maladies. Union and Isolation seem unlikely to converge. But to Lahiri there is isolation in union and union in isolation. My favorites among the nine are as follows:

The opening story entitled A Temporary Matter tells of a couple forced to confront the growing loneliness in their marriage caused by the lingering grief from having a stillborn child. Confessionals done during scheduled blackouts become moments of convergence as they allow themselves to be vulnerable. But once the power comes back, the isolation sets in. This particular story leaves one with an ache because what you "know" can truly hurt you. And because there is such a disparity from when they were first married to their present relationship, underscoring the fact that even love can be temporary. 

The titular story Interpreter of Maladies speaks of Mr. Kapasi, a guide and interpreter who fantasizes about having a relationship with a married woman tourist named Mrs. Das. The guide, experiencing discontent in his own domestic life, causes him to interpret Mrs. Das' interest in his profession as interest in himself, as a partner/lover. But a confession from Mrs. Das shattered Mr. Kapasi's dreams. A confession the former wishes the latter to interpret for her. It's true these two don't have a language barrier but theirs is a heartbreaking kind of miscommunication.

Sexy is about Miranda who experiences a profound realization of her current stature as a mistress when a seven year old boy she was baby sitting points it out to her so succinctly through the definition of the word "sexy", a word Dev (the married man) once referred to her. "Sexy means loving someone you don't know." Hearing these words became the turning point for Miranda. In most societies, mistresses are seen as anomalies in relationships. They could never belong, much like how immigrants will always find themselves unable to truly assimilate in a country not their own.   

The Third and Final Continent is about an Indian man who moves to America for a job. He soon finds himself renting a room in an elderly lady's (Mrs. Croft) loft. These two, in their isolation, develop an unlikely bond to the point that Mrs. Croft's approval of Mala, his bride from an arranged marriage, initiated the first signs of affection between the couple. Eventually the narrator and Mala chose to stay in America, living a good life, growing old with his wife and rearing a son. The father finds himself looking back to those days with Mrs. Croft and reflect on how far he's gone. It is about as astonishing as having landed on the moon, he says. This story brims of hope. Marriage and immigrant life doesn't always end in sadness.  

Jhumpa Lahiri writes all the nine stories with clear-eyed grace and simplicity that they feel as intimate as a whisper, resulting in an effect that is richly emotional. She is a revelation.

Comments

  1. Ooooooh. Sexy! Glad you liked this book, Tin! :)

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    1. Sexy is an amazing story! We get a lot of mistress stories in pop culture, but Lahiri's take on it is just touching and different. :)

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  2. Yay for Jhumpa Lahiri! This is my favorite short story collection of all time, and we have the same favorite stories! :)

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    1. This short story collection is wonderful! And yay for those four favorites! As my fifth, I think I'd go for Bibi Haldar.Just sayin. Haha. :)

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  3. Hi Libby! As we should! It's a pretty strong short story collection. :)

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