Book review of Interpreter of Maladies
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
One the most prolific writers of our time, Jhumpa Lahiri came into limelight with her debut short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, which won her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the year 1999. Passionate, agonizing, and bittersweet, her stories are celebrated all over the world.
I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.
Interpreter of Maladies compromises of nine brilliantly written short stories. Lahiri bestows an almost palpable quality to all these nine stories. Whether set in Boston or in Bengal, these stories which show the clash between two worlds, between the inner and outer persona, between tradition of the east and modernity of the west, have the ability to touch something deep inside our soul and compel us to think hard.
All the nine stories have something distinct to offer. The first story of the collection, A Temporary Matter , is a tale about a young married couple who start playing a game during power cut in which they exchange secrets about themselves, all the while dealing with the problems in their relationship and the pain of coping with the loss of their baby.
Narrated from the perspective of a young girl, When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine deals with the aftereffects of war and partition. Seeing the whole story from the viewpoint of a child gives a touch of innocence to these serious matters.
With war and partition comes refugees and A Real Durwan painfully brings the pathos and plight of an old woman who got separated from her family after partition and got deported to Calcutta.
Then we have stories like the titular Interpreter of Maladies and This Blessed House which deals with themes of estrangement and alienation. Disappointment within marriage, broken dreams, and lost hopes are brought out in a heartfelt manner in these two stories.
Mrs. Sen’s is a beautiful story about nostalgia for one’s home. Mrs. Sen is an Indian woman living in Boston who yearns for her hometown Calcutta. The only way in which she feels close to her old way of life in the modern western world is when she buys, cooks, or eats fish. One of the most honest and real creations in the collection, the story has a very tangible quality attached to it.
The Treatment of Bibi Haldar, a poignant story set in Bengal, follows the life of Bibi Haldar, a 29 year old woman, who suffers from a rare ailment with no cure. This is a story which stems from deep rooted superstitions and has social evils at the core of it.
One of the most exquisite stories of the collection is Sexy. A young woman from Boston, named Miranda has an affair with a married Bengali man. The futileness of their relationship becomes completely clear to Miranda when a young boy coming from a broken family, defines the meaning of the word sexy to her.
Sexy means loving someone you do not know.
The Third and Final Continent is the last story of the collection, and it feels like Lahiri intentionally kept this story for the end as it presents a perfect ending to this spectacular book. The Third and Final Continent is one of the more optimistic stories of the collection. The story is set in the 1960s in India, London and Boston. It is a story of the feeling of not belonging somewhere, of trying to fit in, of experiencing something new, the anxiety that comes with trying something for the very first time and finally the sense of achievement and joy that comes with surviving and living in this unknown world.
Laced with humour, wit, and irony, all the nine stories contained in this book are example of masterful creations. The themes of existentialism and alienation, of having a feeling of not being able to belong anywhere, of reminiscing about the past, give a universal appeal to all the stories. Although most of her stories deal with similar themes, each and every story presents something totally different and refreshing and evokes varied emotions in us. And the only way to discover the true excellence of the collection and taste all flavours of the book is to go through all the stories.
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