Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Have you read Jhumpa Lahiri? Because you should. I’ve read three books by her this year – two collections of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth, and her 2003 novel, The Namesake – and she has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. However, I don’t think she’s particularly well known and I don’t hear her name thrown around a lot. Which is a shame, because I think she’s so talented.
Ms. Lahiri writes almost exclusively about the Indian-American experience. Her characters are often first-generation Americans whose parents immigrated from India and the stories showcase a bridge between these two worlds. Although I do not come from an immigrant family or have any knowledge of what that entails, her compelling stories draw the reader in so that the characters’ experiences do not feel foreign. I gained a new appreciation for the immigrant experience, the fear and risk and lack of belonging that one may feel. The stories also provide an intimate look at the experience of having family who come from a very different culture.
The stories mostly center on relationships – marriages, affairs, family, parents, and neighbors, and deal heavily with culture and tradition. They do not contain grandiose themes or implausible situations. Rather, she writes about normal people, doing normal things, but there is a distinct beauty to each of these seemingly simple stories. They reveal intimate truths about human nature that feel very authentic.
What I love most about Interpreter of Maladies is the writing. The stories are easy to read and direct, and the writing is not flowery or overly complex. It doesn’t have to be. I feel that each word, sentence, and paragraph has been conscientiously placed to have the most powerful impact.
The last story in particular struck a chord with me. It deals with a broader subject matter than the other stories, but it eloquently portrays not only the immigrant experience, but also the unique emotion of being proud of yourself and your accomplishments. It is just so beautifully written.