Interpreter of Maladies – Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies

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Interpreter of Maladies is a compilation of short tales about emigrants from India and becoming first generation Americans. The book shares its title with one of the book’s nine stories.

Jhumpa Lahiri creates intriguing plots and an assortment of eclectic characters that come to life with amazing clarity. Any one of many central characters could have been made into an entertaining full-length novel. The worst thing I can say about the book is that the end of each story brought disappointment that it was over.

In The Third and Final Continent you will encounter 103 year old Mrs. Croft who still lives in her own home and takes in boarders.

A Real Durwan is about the life of Boori Ma, a homeless woman from Calcutta who becomes the gate-keeper of an apartment house. She monitors the comings and goings and sweeps the three floors of steps each day, sleeping in a make-shift bed in the entranceway.

Mrs. Sen’s is about a young American boy’s experience having an Indian woman as a baby sitter. Poor Mrs. Sen – all she really wants is fresh fish for dinner every night – but life is not that simple.

In Interpreter of Maladies, an American Indian family returns for a visit to their homeland. As they travel between tourist sites, the father, Mr. Das, has his head buried in a tour booklet while Mrs. Das is in the back seat of the cab polishing her nails… and arguing with the two unruly children. Their cab driver-tour guide is shocked at the undisciplined behavior of the children and makes the observation, “They were all like siblings. Mr. and Mrs. Das behaved like an older brother and sister, not parents. It seemed that they were in charge of the children only for the day; it was hard to believe they were regularly responsible for anything other than themselves.”

Interestingly, some reviews by readers of Indian descent and others, gave the book a mediocre rating citing trite themes, superficial characters, and boring plots, I suppose they expected something deeply philosophical or intensely political. However, I thought it was a great book. Along with many interesting observations about Indian culture, the book offers drama, humor, and refreshingly simple, unpretentious real-life in a well presented collection of human interest stories. Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Pen/Hemingway Award.

Rated 4.0 Stars June 2013

All contents © 2013 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.

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