Interpreter of Maladies

Four months ago, in Bacolod, Gen Asenjo recommended this collection to me. Typically, other books got in the way, so I finished it only last week. In 1999, Jhumpa Lahiri made her debut with this breathtaking collection of nine short stories, with concerns ranging from love and estrangement, to acceptance and separation. Her protagonists struggle mostly with specific Indian-American issues, but the breadth and depth of her stories reach out to a much wider world of human emotion.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories offer no pretenses, but they possess a delicate quality that flows from page to page. Much like Alice Munro’s Away from Her, the collection makes you want to “spend a whole novel with its characters” (New York Times Book Review). The stories are quite long, but remain very easy to read. They exhibit a rare, understated beauty brought about by clear storytelling, unhampered by glaring symbols or images: simplicity at its finest. The writer’s unaffected style fools you for a moment into thinking that it’s not at all contrived, but then the elegance of the stories convinces you otherwise, until you conclude: even this effect must have been intended. Finishing the first story, I remember thinking: this is the kind of story I want to be able to write someday.

Although vaguely familiar, the domestic stories work because Lahiri provides such precise descriptions that make it impossible for us to connect them with any other—details as specific as a man scooping up his wife’s trail of cigarette ashes from the floor. Also, the Indian elements don’t feel at all forced. Wherever they pop up in the text, they seem perfectly natural in the context of these stories. (Lahiri’s writing makes me crave Indian food, although I have barely any experience with it.)

“It’s rare to find a collection in which every story is a winner. Here is one,” declares the San Diego Union-Tribune. I generally liked all the stories in this book; I think all of them can stand alone in their own right, but of course I enjoyed some more than others. My favorites are “A Temporary Matter,” “Mrs. Sen’s” and “This Blessed House.” It might be too rash to proclaim anything like this, but I feel this is one of the best fiction collections I have ever read. Naturally, this grants Jhumpa Lahiri A-list celebrity status in my books: someone worth recommending again and again.

Mrs. Sen’s

‘Eliot, if I began to scream right now at the top of my lungs, would someone come?’ ‘Mrs. Sen, what’s wrong?’ ‘Nothing, I am only asking if someone would come.’

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