Reviews: Interpreter of Maladies

Bancroft School students were asked to review Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies. Some chose to review the collection of short stories as a whole and others zeroed in aon a partiular story. The following reviews are thoughtful, original, and enlightening. At the very least they will entice readers to peruse this book as well as her other equally captivating works. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see a list of her books.

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A Community of Outsiders by Anna Hayward

How do you write about silence? This question seems like a paradox; surely silence is impossible to capture in good, detailed writing. However, Pulitzer prize winning American-Indian author Jhumpa Lahiri achieves the impossible by capturing the moods of silence and lonesomeness, portraying them as necessary and beautiful rather than oppressive. Interpreter of Maladies, written by Lahiri and published in 1999, is a collection of short stories drawing upon the author’s own experience belonging to two cultures. In both the content and style of her writing, Lahiri conveys a depth of understanding and empathy when considering the themes of solitude, cultural displacement, and feeling like an outsider.

Lahiri’s stories are short but pack a punch. Her characters have a common feeling of cultural displacement, for example, Mr. Pirzada is separated from his home and family and Mrs. Sen moves to the U.S. but feels isolated and unadapted. Lahiri’s own sense of cultural displacement is evident in her writing as well. She writes about people who don’t feel like they belong with an intimate understanding of the situation; she emphasizes their lonesomeness and isolation without passing judgement. Lahiri once noted in an interview that she feels like an outsider, remarking, “The feeling that there was no single place to which I fully belonged bothered me growing up.” Lahiri is able to write such great complex characters because she herself relates to the feeling of belonging to more than one world. This deep understanding is one reason I think young adults and teenagers my age are the best audience for this book. Young people are constantly going through changes - for example, gaining independence, meeting new people, and taking on responsibilities. These changes allow people my age to empathize with feelings of displacement or being an outsider. In this way, then, Lahiri’s stories are very accessible to young people and facilitate conversations about people of different cultures and ages.

I also enjoyed the style in which Lahiri writes her stories. She writes as if she is an outsider looking in on her characters in a fishbowl, allowing the reader to fully see and understand her characters from multiple perspectives and then come to their own conclusions instead of forcing a single narrative. She gives the themes of silence and isolation center stage in her stories and allows the reader to view them without discomfort or through a falsely optimistic lens. Whereas many writers ignore uncomfortable feelings, Lahiri normalizes these emotions. 

No matter what kind of life one lives, lonesomeness, silence, and isolation are important and unavoidable. Both the content of Lahiri’s stories as well as her writing style let the reader know that uncomfortable feelings should be embraced rather than ignored.

 

It’s a Lonely World on this Third and Final Continent by Arieta Nasto

Imagine taking a trip to Calcutta, London, and Boston. Easy, right? Now imagine starting a new life in each of these three countries, alone. Not as easy, but Jhumpa Lahiri explores this common immigration experience in her collection of short stories Interpreter of Maladies, more specifically in the short story “The Third and Final Continent”. The narrator in this story has moved from India to England, and finally the US, where he finds himself lonely, searching for emotional connections. This inspiring short story ends the collection perfectly, radiating hope from the unpredictability of immigration. 

It is truly heartwarming how one person can make a new world feel less scary. For the narrator, this person’s Mrs. Croft, an ancient woman who rents out a spare room to the narrator. When the narrator comes home, Mrs. Croft insists he sit next to her while she declares a man’s on the moon. Then Mrs. Croft makes the narrator exclaim “Splendid”. To emphasize this small moment, Lahiri chooses to repeat their interaction each night, specifically with the word “splendid”. The scenes seem minor, but it forms the narrator and Mrs. Crofts’ everlasting relationship as the narrator remembers after her death“hers was the first life [he] had admired”. These two prove how unforeseen relationships can turn into unforgettable ones. 

            It would not be a short story in Lahiri’s collection without an amorous love story; this one different from the others. The narrator’s married to Mala from an arranged marriage, and up until Mrs. Croft meets Mala, the narrator could not see the two falling in love. Their relationship was as platonic as a middle-schoolers’. When Mrs. Croft sees Mala, she exclaims Mala is “a perfect lady!” The narrator laughs, and from here he feels himself and Mala get closer for the first time. The tension starts to thaw, and they begin to let their guard down. Unlike other stories in the collection, Mala and the narrator fall in, rather than out, of love over time. Their passion grows, presenting a realistic, yet aspirational, relationship I fell in love with.

While this short story exposes the harsh reality of immigrating alone in the 1970s, the story and collection end with the narrator and his wife successful and in love, reflecting strength and motivation. Now, you may ask, “Why should I care about the immigrant experience?” Simple. You don’t need to care but just recognize the hardships. Immigration is an arcane subject, and Lahiri’s purpose in including immigration stories is to allow readers to understand the emotional and physical struggles. An author cannot make readers have empathy; they can only make readers comprehend, which Lahiri effectively accomplishes.

 

Universal Disconnection by Bernard Santos

The Interpreter of Maladies: you guessed it, it’s artsy—in all the best ways. I legitimately didn’t know what maladies meant. As background, author Jhumpa Lahiri’s a child of immigrants and draws inspiration from growing up in the fast-paced, consumerist American life and her parents’ traditional West Bengali culture. I’d come to find that Lahiri’d curated a great series of somber short stories that charter a range of human struggles—loneliness, neglect, infidelity, and much more.

Some stories focus solely on describing struggles unique to immigrants: a sensation of feeling out of place and longing for one’s original home while adapting to the new. For example, one of the characters struggled to find food he’d grown up with, forcing his diet to be “cornflakes and milk, day and night and… some bananas for variety”. His food, a part of his identity, was stripped from him. Lahiri’s stories take place all across the globe but maintain that same melancholic vibe; characters range from a detached couple coping with a miscarriage to a man and woman having an affair. The general consensus is we all have our struggles, no matter where we come from or where we’re going. 

Even though the reader personally hasn’t gone through what the character’s feeling, Lahiri’s writing allows something to resonate within oneself regardless of their background. Lahiri creates vivid images and perfectly describes emotions that click with the audience. The reader themselves might’ve never experienced what it’s like to be homesick in a foreign country, but the reader does know what it feels like to be in a rut as seen through Mrs. Sen wistfully staring out the window talking about her home, referring to “India, not the apartment where she sat chopping vegetables”. It’s moments like these where Lahiri excels, seamlessly breathing life into the characters through their relatability. Readers everywhere know what it’s like to feel stuck or unhappy, and Lahiri captures it with solid descriptions and charming simplicity. She has a rad way with words where the term less is more rings very true. 

Each story carries itself well on its own, bearing a unique identity whilst maintaining the somber, serious vibe of the book. Lahiri makes the stories carry a similar thread of doleful energy. There’s an overbearing silence choking each character. The characters don’t get many happy moments. I love it! Although… it can feel slow; reading becomes… boring. Ultimately, though, Lahiri does an incredible job of creating minimalistic, impactful images. This combined with her poetic descriptions of human emotions makes up for the slower scenes. Her depictions of the immigrant experience and struggles of holding keeping one’s traditions whilst assimilating into a new world are also done extremely well. The entire book acts as a courier for the emotions and experiences of the characters. I’d recommend this book to anybody who’d want to take a dive into the headspace of immigrants, as well as read some artsy tales of the human psyche.

 

Life In The Slow Lane? by Darren Belanger

Entertainment in the 21st century is quick, flashy, and high tech. Fast cars. Superheroes. iPhones. TikTok?! So we tend to have very low tolerances for things that are quiet, long, and natural, and that’s exactly what you get with Pulitzer Prize winner, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. Nothing about this collection of short stories is showy or what we would normally think of as entertaining, so when assigned this book for summer reading, I wasn’t expecting much. What I found instead was a meticulously crafted album of short stories, little peeks into the worlds of unfamiliar people, and their character-driven plots melded with their short story characteristics to leave me entertained without a single alien invasion. 

One story in particular titled “When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine” was my favorite - not because it read like a hit single, but because it hummed a simple tune about genuine relationships. Mr. Pirzada, a thoughtful but troubled man originally from Dacca, Bangladesh and now in America, regularly comes to dine at Lilia’s house and watches the violence destroying his hometown broadcasted on the TV. This multi-dimensional character who misses his daughters back home interacts beautifully with Lilia, a young girl of Indian heritage herself, as she grows up and becomes more aware of the world around her. To Lilia, common phrases that she has always used casually like “thank you” and “don’t worry” take on deeper meanings when considering Mr. Pirzada’s situation. The duality of these two characters plus the handful of other supporting characters who all serve a distinct purpose in the story creates a character-driven plot that truly holds a reader’s attention. And still, no aliens.

And a cast of characters like this is optimal to portray in the format of a short story. Short stories have the unique ability to support rich character arcs while still managing a sort of efficiency in their storytelling. This characteristic allows readers to peek into an unfamiliar window and find, as Lahiri herself put it, “another side, a vastly different version to everything.” With Lilia as our guide/narrator through the story, we can’t get lost because even if the reader has a hard time understanding the struggles of Mr. Pirzada, the narrator does too, so they are immersed in that journey together. Not unlike Lilia herself, the reader gets to sit down with Mr. Pirzada enough to feel his longing without being taken through his whole life story. Every anecdote and description is included for a reason.

Rich without being overly artsy or elaborate, this short story lends itself to anyone who appreciates efficiency in storytelling and wants to escape the real world and just feel something. Your time away from your phone will not be wasted.

 

Two Clashing Cultures by Jack Cormier

Jhumpa Lahiri, author, Pulitzer prize winner, and an immigrant in America, once stated, “The question of identity is always a difficult one, but especially so for those who are culturally displaced, as immigrants are, or those who grow up in two worlds simultaneously, as in the case for their children.” In her collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, she writes about the immigrant experience and the cultural divide between two nations. In her well-written final story, “The Third and Final Continent”, Lahiri’s in-depth description about an immigrant adapting to a constantly changing America demonstrates the immense difficulty that immigrants have with their own self-identifications.

In this short story, the cultural divide between America and India plays a critical role on how the protagonist adapts in America. When reading this story, I was able to grasp the immediate difficulties brought upon immigrants. The protagonist, in this story, longs for home and strives to belong. Lahiri does an excellent job of demonstrating the struggles that one faces in uncharted territory, “But there was no ship’s desk to escape to, no glittering ocean to thrill my soul, no breeze to cool my face, no one to talk to.” Moreover, I enjoyed Lahiri’s inclusion to discuss life in India as it shows a major contrast between two nations. When Lahiri talks about the protagonist’s Indian wife adapting to America, it is clear that she also struggles while adapting to American life as she brings with her Indian traditions and items.

All characters depicted by Lahiri are humanized with real and raw emotions, which allows readers to connect to different characters on a personal level. The protagonist’s emotions are displayed perfectly when he narrates, “For the first time since her arrival, I felt sympathy. Like me, Mala had traveled far from home...for no other reason than to be my wife.” In this moment, I was able to recognize the protagonist’s emotions. Moreover, sympathy is an emotion that is honest, a harsh emotion that readers can connect to. Lahiri’s choice to make her characters relatable, understandable, and troubled further shows that readers may have a stronger relationship with this book.

Overall, this book encapsulates the difficulty that immigrants face in a native country and makes each character human due to Lahiri’s descriptive writing. Many times, authors tend to end their book with optimism, but Lahiri focuses on the harsh realities of the real world and highlights the struggles faced by immigrants. If readers are looking for a book that deals with many emotions and revolves around two nations that are divided, then this book is a must-read.

 

A Blessed Short Story in a Choppy Collection by Jada Garnett

Starting my summer reading is always the most dreaded time of summer for me. However, Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, is an enticing read that didn't make my summer reading experience terrible. Lahiri, is the daughter of two Indian immigrants who lived in the UK, then moved to the US. In Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri weaves in themes about love, communication, and immigration so that although each story is different in content, they connect in theme. My favorite short story out of the collection is “This Blessed House'' because of the captivating drama and irony the plot holds.

In “This Blessed House,” Sanjeev and Twinkle, a Hindu couple who immigrated from India to America, struggle with communicating their needs to one another like an old couple about to go through a divorce. When the two move into their new house, it is evident that he wants to throw out the unexpected Christian objects they have found and she wants them to stay. Twinkle even goes as far to say she hates Sanjeev when he simply says, “For now I am going to put the [Virgin Mary statue] in the garage.” Lahiri’s use of irony as this couple faces a religious divide sparked my interest as a reader. On top of the irony, the dynamic between the couple was fun to read because it felt like I was learning about Sanjeev and Twinkle at the same time they were getting to know each other due to their arranged marriage. The climactic love dynamic Lahiri creates between Sanjeev and Twinkle left me highly immersed in this short story.

Speaking to the book as a whole, I was not a fan of unpacking new plot in each short story. I understand why Lahiri wrote her novel as a collection of short stories as the diverse examples were helpful in emphasizing the immigrant experience; however, it was hard for me to find the connections between the stories plot wise. Despite my dislike of Lahiri’s choice to display the plot, I enjoyed that she took the time to describe each character in her short stories. It made me understand the characters' decisions and actions further. Although I would’ve rather followed one single plotline throughout the entire story, Lahiri atoned for my dislike of her collection of short stories by giving helpful character descriptions.

It’s very important for everyone to be aware of what immigrants go through so that people who aren’t immigrants can be empathetic to their struggles. I would highly recommend Interpreter of Maladies to teens/adults, for Lahiri does a nice job of informing people of the problems immigrants face through entertaining plot scenes.

 

Two Worlds Collide by Jonah Keates

American writer Jhumpa Lahiri said in an interview, “I’ve been extremely lucky”. However, this isn’t the case for her characters. Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories by Lahiri which tells of realistic characters in difficult situations. These stories portray Indians or people of Indian descent, and many characters are immigrants; A Readers Guide writes about the collection, “[T]hese stories speak with universal eloquence and compassion to everyone who’s ever felt like an outsider.” I believe her stories also inform people who don’t feel like outsiders and haven’t learned about the immigrant experience. Lahiri herself is the child of immigrants, so she is familiar with both perspectives.  I especially enjoyed “Mrs. Sen’s,” a story in which Lahiri writes from the perspective of both an immigrant and someone who is unfamiliar with immigration. She appeals to both of these groups, and the story takes on a different meaning depending on the reader.

This story focuses on the titular character, a woman who recently immigrated to America from India, and is now babysitting. Throughout the story, Lahiri highlights moments that show how Mrs. Sen still holds onto her Indian culture. For example, she insists on always preparing her dinner with a traditional Indian blade despite more efficient modern methods.  Lahiri echoed this sentiment herself, when she answered in an interview, “For immigrants, the knowledge of and longing for a lost world... are distressing.” By acknowledging these issues in her writing, Lahiri speaks to immigrant readers and reassures them that it’s natural to feel like you don’t fit in as you’re not alone in your feelings.

I also appreciate that Lahiri writes from the perspective of someone who is unaware of the issues that immigrants face: a boy named Elliot whom Mrs. Sen babysits.  During his time with Mrs. Sen, Elliot learns about Indian culture and a society with which he is unfamiliar.  Once, he notices that Mrs. Sen has red powder in the part of her hair.  Mrs. Sen explains that this is a custom in India once a woman gets married, but before this, Eliott had assumed that his babysitter had cut her had or been bitten.  Lahiri once again mirrors her writing in an interview when she expresses that “there was another side, a vastly different version to everything.” This quote is representative of many readers who are not immigrants. This story teaches that even though immigrants are sometimes called aliens, they’re the same as everyone else. The boy grew as a person during his months with Mrs. Sen, and through this story, so do nonimmigrant readers.

I believe that “Mrs. Sen’s” represents the whole collection as all of the stories illustrate the experiences of immigrants or those still learning about immigration. This collection is very relevant in our current political climate as the debate about immigration grows.  I respect Lahiri for being able to frame both sides of the immigration issue while keeping the reader engaged, thereby making Interpreter of Maladies accessible to everyone.

 

Jumping into the Murky Waters of Marriage by Joseph Azar

Have you ever been married or in a long-term relationship? Well, if you haven’t, we’re in the same boat. Luckily, reading “A Temporary Matter”, a short story within the book Interpreter of Maladies by American-Indian author Jhumpa Lahiri, helped me better understand what it is like to sign that eternal bond. Marriage only seems to consist of pain, longing, and in the case of our protagonists throughout the first of nine short stories, death. Okay, maybe there’s a little more to it than that, but it’s still not all that great. Right away we are introduced to a seemingly content married couple, Shoba and Shukumar. As Lahiri shines the spotlight into their personal lives, the death of their newborn child gradually tears their marriage apart, ultimately leading to the couple's inevitable separation.

Lahiri writes an emotional, honest, and realistic story. Although it’s written in 3rd person, her descriptions of the effects that marriage has on Shoba and Shukumar makes it feel like I am there with them. Lahiri does not attempt to sugarcoat any of the hardships that Shoba and Shukumar face throughout the story; after Shoba announces that she is moving out, Lahiri writes that “[i]t sickened Shukumar, knowing that [Shoba] had spent these past evenings preparing for a life without him. He was relieved and yet he was sickened.” While the story was short, I was still able to feel a sense of connection and empathy towards the couple, one which I have only felt a few times before when reading a book. 

But I will be honest. This is probably one of the saddest of the nine stories that Lahiri writes; however, amidst the pain and bleakness that composes the backdrop of the story, Lahiri’s short bursts of joy lighten the emotional overload. Her beautiful descriptions of a married couple attempting to rekindle their burnt-out flame bring the pages to life; for example, after the power goes out, Shukumar prepares the dinner table for a hopefully romantic meal and Lahiri writes that “[Shukumar] had the candles ready on the countertop, standing in brass holders shaped like lotuses… they ate under the glow of the copper-shaded ceiling lamp that hung over the table.” Despite the hardships that Shoba and Shukumar face, Lahiri is able to write a tender, alluring scene among the discomfort and longing filling the couple’s household. 

Even in those twenty-three pages of text, I felt like I was transported to a different world. It was hard to part ways with Shoba and Shukumar, but they taught me the ups and downs of marriage. Clearly, the pages are filled with pain and suffering, but don’t let this discourage you from reading their story. The raw, emotional beauty, which Lahiri brings to the page, is well worth the short amount of internal suffering.  

 

How Far Can Sexual Attraction Really Take You? by Kristina Melo

Sympathizing with a deceived woman is easy, but what about the mistress who falsely believes that man truly loves her? Indian origin author Jhumpa Lahiri combines several short stories in her Pultizer Prize-winning collection Interpreter of Maladies regarding platonic and romantic Indian-American relationships. Her short story “Sexy” was engaging as the protagonist Miranda discovers her infidelity with Dev has no emotional link. In “Sexy”, she skillfully reveals how cultural differences can result in a lack of communication regarding amorous desires. 

Here’s the scoop. Miranda and Dev, a married Indian man, meet in a store and are instantly attracted to each other; Dev finds Miranda’s revealing clothing attractive, and Miranda is intrigued by his “exotic” appearance because he is Indian. As time passes in their affair, Miranda modifies her lifestyle to please Dev: buying clothes, studying India’s map, and visiting an Indian supermarket. Just one time, Dev simply calls her “sexy”, and she interprets his compliment as a loving gesture but later recognizes the two are not enamored. I never realized how dissimilar the Indian and American sexual standards were; the standards create a relationship gap since Dev assumes Miranda is a sexualized gardening tool (if you know what I mean) because he hasn’t even seen his Indian wife’s legs. Miranda could never understand Dev’s domestic life as she “thought [Bengali] was a religion”; therefore, Dev could never open up to her. Also, he loosely uses sentimental English terms as they do not have value to him. Shockingly, Lahiri’s mistress perspective gave me pity for Miranda as her naivete confuses lust for love; this made reading feel like I was watching an episode of the Kardashian’s. In fact, Lahiri herself believes the collection expresses “the dilemma, the difficulty, and… the impossibility of communicating emotional pain… to others'.' 

I also appreciate Lahiri’s ability to capture poor communication in an interracial relationship with realistic dialogue and symbolic foreshadowing. Miranda and Dev’s conversations are as awkward as two people attempting to communicate in different languages, so Lahiri can help convey their disconnect. Dev informs Miranda that he’s lonely, suggesting the absence of intercourse; she misinterprets his suggestion of a physical relationship for emotional. I admired Lahiri’s subtle foreshadowing as Miranda grabs Dev’s attention while cosmetics shopping, symbolizing the start of an artificial, sexually-oriented relationship. As a result of the dialogue and foreshadowing, the tension greatly increases, striking suspense on every page. 

Although I expected Miranda and Dev’s affair was ill-fated, the reality of a mistress is unexpectedly victimized. It is a great read for anyone interested in the effects of cultural differences on romantic relationships. Lahiri’s “Sexy” is honest and makes the reader wary of the intentions of people – two characteristics necessary when involved in any relationship.

 

What Makes The Perfect Opening by Morgan Adams

Jhumpa Lahiri, an Indian American author, wrote about many different characters and their hardships in her collection of short stories Interpreter of Maladies. While many of the short stories in the book are memorable, the one that stuck with me the most was the first story, titled “A Temporary Matter”, which focuses on a couple, Shukumar and Shoba, and the decline of their relationship after their baby was stillborn. The story goes into how the couple copes with their grief, and how it affects their marriage. Lahiri uses the solemn atmosphere and plotline to draw the reader in and set a tone for the rest of the book, making the story compelling.

Lahiri’s writing style makes “A Temporary Matter” a notable story as well as an effective introduction to the book’s world. In Interpreter of Maladies, the tone is never loud or aggressive no matter how intense the situation is in the story. This personally gave me the feeling that the stories were a lot more grounded in reality, allowing me to relate to them more. Even the plotline, covering a married couple’s relationship after a stillborn child, felt somewhat relatable to me, a teenage girl, due to the emotions conveyed through the writing. The grief and frustration of the characters I could feel through the page while watching them struggle through their relationship stuck with me while I read the rest of the book and also helped me understand and relate to some of the other stories more.

“A Temporary Matter”, while being an introduction to ideas presented throughout the book, is also a deep, thought-provoking story. The story focuses on the troubles in Shoba and Shukumar’s marriage and how hard it is for them to communicate with each other, both of which are reoccurring motifs throughout the book’s many stories and characters. While such a serious story may seem jarring for the opening of the book, it actually eases the reader into the world of the book which keeps the somber attitude used to approach this story. Since similar motifs of being unable to communicate with yourself or others are used in later chapters, the reader knows what to expect from the book after reading this story.

Lahiri once stated in an interview that the heart of her book was “the dilemma, the difficulty, and often impossibility of communicating emotional pain and affliction to others, as well as expressing it to ourselves.” Personally, I saw this goal shine through the most in this story. I felt the characters’ struggles and emotions through the pages, making it memorable to me even after I had finished reading the entire book.

 

The Sobering Reality of the Immigrant Experience by Nathaniel Martin

You do not belong where you are. How did it feel to read that sentence? For most people, the resulting sense of alienation is foreign to them; however, there are some who must live with this reality every day. Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri thoroughly embodies this feeling in “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine,” which is the second story in Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of nine short stories about the difficulties of love and the immigrant experience.

Throughout the story, Lahiri outlines the notion of displacement in a way that even those who have rarely had that experience can understand. The plot centers around Mr. Pirzada, an eloquent, formal man from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). However, Mr. Pirzada’s wife and daughters still live in his home country, where civil war is brewing. As the safety of his family becomes increasingly in doubt, he begins to show signs of despair. It becomes obvious that Mr. Pirzada feels he does not belong in the United States; instead, he belongs back home with his family on the other side of the world. Lahiri’s portrayal of Mr. Pirzada is a grim reminder that living in an unfamiliar country can be unimaginably difficult at times. In a way, Mr. Pirzada’s experience reflects Lahiri’s own experience as the child of Indian immigrants raised in America. In one interview, Lahiri reveals, “I belonged [in India] in some fundamental way, in the ways I didn’t seem to belong in the United States,” and it is clear that Mr. Pirzada feels a similar sense of displacement.

One reason that Lahiri’s story is so powerful is that she describes her characters in extreme detail. When introducing Mr. Pirzada for the first time, she is careful to not leave out any relevant information. Lahiri details his clothes, his face, his posture, even the way he acts - any information you could ever want to know about him is all right there. This helps create an understanding that you would not get with an otherwise bare description; for me, it was like I had met Mr. Pirzada myself, rather than just reading about him in a book. Importantly, the meticulous introduction of his character makes it easier to empathize with him, just like how it is easier to empathize with a good friend than with a distant acquaintance.

            Lahiri clearly draws from her own experiences to communicate the feeling of alienation in a foreign land; she says in the interview that “there was no single place to which I fully belonged.” However, this story is also a good read for those who have not had that experience as it makes it easier to understand the emotional distress for those who have.

 

Charting an Ongoing Dilemma of Emotional Fluency: “Interpreter of Maladies” by Quinn Hart

“Don’t judge a book by its cover”– A cliche and perhaps overused saying, but ultimately I am grateful for heeding its advice after reading the title. Each story was unique for its characters, perspectives, and contexts. Exclusion, loneliness, and not-belonging are some examples of the many feelings the characters live in their uneventful, repetitive, but unique lives. From an escapee of a raging war to a woman with a seemingly incurable condition, each story brings vastly a different scenario and setting to the common struggle of emotional communication. In “Interpreter of Maladies,” Jhumpa Lahiri charts the difficulty to communicate emotionally which makes her character so real and relatable.

“When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” is an example, describing the immensely difficult immigrant experience of a man plagued by the separation from his family in the Pakistani war. Coming to the U.S, Mr. Pirzada, the protagonist, is welcomed by his neighbors, from which Lilia, the daughter, narrates the story. Lahiri chooses to use the eyes of a child to view Mr. Pirzada’s character in a specific way, a perspective which is unlimited by the knowledge of other cultures and ethnicities that an adult perspective would indefinitely consult. Lilia only sees the human struggle in Mr. Pirzada, the part of him that longs to see his family again. Unfortunately, despite his neighbor’s company and compassion, he remains lonely and homesick. His character appears so realistic and relatable due to his failure to free his jailed emotions, specifically regarding his family. This dilemma represents a human struggle everyone can relate to. 

Lahiri elaborates on this over-arching struggle and its impact on the book in her interview “A Conversation With Jhumpa Lahiri.”  “[Interpreter of Maladies] best expresses, thematically, the predicament at the heart of the book–the dilemma, the difficulty, and often the impossibility of communicating emotional pain and affliction for others, as well as expressing it to ourselves.” Lahiri clarifies that her different unique stories, characters, and premises are yet united under this idea of the dilemma to communicate their emotions. In the story “The Treatment of Bibi Haldar” Bibi Haldar, the protagonist, lives with an undiagnosable condition. Lahiri chooses to write like how Bibi may speak for herself as if her character were real. Lahiri chooses to include barriers such as language, culture, love, or even an undiagnosable condition throughout the book to clearly establish the character’s emotional conflicts. 

Riveting, page-turning and consuming are all attributes that make this book impossible to put down. Walking away from this read, I’ve come to realize that everyone feels misunderstood sometimes, but the people who are prepared to listen who can understand. Ultimately, “Interpreter of Maladies” is the perfect read for anyone looking to relate or a multitude of unique and engaging stories to follow. 

 

Relatability for One, Relatability for All by Sarah Underkofler

Messy relationships, mistreatment of friends, Indian and American culture? The Interpreter of Maladies holds it all as author Jhumpa Lahiri captures these complex and at times messy motifs in nine captivating stories. All of the stories took hold of me in different ways, leading to a wild ride of emotions as I strongly connected to the characters.

Honestly, before I picked up this collection of short stories, I had my doubts; however, I was instantly hooked. Lahiri creates relatable scenarios and characters that produce an instant personal connection. Between the all too real issue of losing touch with another person and the ugly mess of cheating, Lahiri’s stories focus on relationships, especially the idea of two people growing apart. The characters feel isolated and alone as they drift out of one another’s lives. Lahiri’s “stories speak with universal eloquence and compassion to everyone who has ever felt like an outsider” as she taps into a common experience and draws the reader in with realistic scenarios.

Many of the stories centered around the lack of communication between characters. In the story “This Blessed House,” newlyweds Sanjeev and Twinkle move into their new home and find hidden Christian mementos around the house. Twinkle is fascinated and displays these “hidden treasures” while Sanjeev finds it disturbing because they are Hindus. He decides against telling Twinkle his true feelings, leading to later unresolved tensions. In the story “A Temporary Matter,” a married couple experiences major trauma, and about six months go by where they live two separate lives in the same household. They are brought together again by neighborhood construction; however, soon after catching up, the wife asks for a divorce. The husband was shocked. He had assumed they would work on their relationship, but without warning, she dropped this bomb on him. Both stories featured a lack of communication, which frustrated me as a reader. All I wanted to do was yell and scream at the characters in the stories for not communicating. That’s when it dawned on me. Lahiri had set me up! Without even realizing it, Lahiri manipulated my emotions, sucked me into the stories, and made me care about her characters. I had just been Lahiri’ed!

A quick escape from reality, this book instantly absorbed me each time I picked it up. The stories contained drama to keep an interesting storyline, but were realistic, relatable, and engaging for readers. This book left me wanting to communicate with others more, and not hide problems or even little annoyances from loved ones. Interpreter of Maladies is a hidden gem of relatability.

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$15.99
ISBN: 9780358213260
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - October 22nd, 2019

The Namesake: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780618485222
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Mariner Books - September 1st, 2004

Unaccustomed Earth (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9780307278258
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - April 7th, 2009

The Lowland (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780307278265
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Published: Vintage - June 17th, 2014

In Other Words Cover Image
By Jhumpa Lahiri, Ann Goldstein (Translated by)
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ISBN: 9781101875551
Availability: Special Order
Published: Knopf - February 9th, 2016

The Clothing of Books Cover Image
$7.95
ISBN: 9780525432753
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Published: Vintage - November 15th, 2016

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Whereabouts: A novel Cover Image
$24.00
ISBN: 9780593318317
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Knopf - April 27th, 2021