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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Review and quotes: INTERPRETER OF MALADIES


Title: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri 

Book Beginnings quote (from "A Temporary Matter"):

The notice informed them that it was a temporary matter; for five days their electricity would be cut off for one hour, beginning at eight P.M.

Friday56 quote (from "Interpreter of Maladies"):

When he finished writing his address Mr. Kapasi handed her the paper, but as soon as he did he worried that he had either misspelled his name, or accidentally reverse the numbers of his postal code.

Summary: This 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner is a collection of nine stories set in India or whose characters are Indian but living in the US. Each story finds the characters seeking love and acceptance yet are often misunderstood or maligned.

Review: I've decided that I really like to read short stories, or, more specifically, well-written short stories of which this book is full. The thing about short stories that captivates me is how fast the reader has to jump into the action. There is no time for long descriptions, introductions, or frivolous details. For example, in the first story, "A Temporary Matter", the reader learns within the first few pages that a young couple have lost their way together after the stillborn death of their first child. Will their time together each night in the dark due to the power outage save or destroy their marriage? 

In the third story, "Interpreter of Maladies", Mr. Kapasi is moonlighting as a driver for tourists. His main job is to interpret the maladies spoken by patients which he then translates into English so the doctor can understand their symptoms. One of the tourists he is chauffeuring around misunderstands his job and doesn't think of him as a translator but as a person who can figure out what is wrong with people. Mr. Kapasi misinterprets her attention as something sexual just as she misunderstands his actual job. One is left wondering at the twist: an interpreter misinterpreting. 

In fact, each story ends thusly. The story is merely a chapter, a moment, and event, then it is over and the reader is left wondering at all the possible endings. I love that. Don't you? When I read, I love filling in some of the gaps and guessing what will happen next off the page.

Jhumpa Lahiri is an Indian-American, immigrating with her family of West Bengali descent when she was three years old. Her father was a librarian at the University of Rhode Island and was the model for the protagonist of last story in this collection, "The Third and Final Continent." Her parents always wanted Lahiri to appreciate her Bengali heritage and they often took her back to Calcutta (now Kolkata) to visit relatives. These experiences populate her stories. 

Two months ago I took a look on ranked lists of past Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winners to determine which of the 90+ books were the best of the best. (See the results of my research here.) Interpreter of Maladies was often in the top ten of the lists I consulted. I didn't know what I'd be getting from reading a bunch of short stories published over twenty years ago. But what I got was well worth the effort it took to find the book and to read the stories. I ended up liking or at least having compassion for each of the main characters and in the process learned a bit about Bengali culture and what it like being an immigrant living abroad. I highly recommend this book.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
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e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.   
 

-Anne

10 comments:

  1. I don't generally read short stories(I enjoy description) and am only sometimes OK with ambiguous endings. So, I don't know that this collection would be for me.

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    1. Actually, I think you would like many of the stories with your interest and understanding of other cultures and languages.

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  2. I agree that to write a good short story the author really has to get it right. There is no time for extra fluff, but you have to make us care quickly. I'm glad this one worked for you!

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  3. I remember reading 'A Temporary Matter' and it really hit me, somehow. It was so beautifully written, so intimate. I do really enjoy reading short stories and you put why into words perfectly; you do have to jump into action as the reader straightaway. I do also think it allows authors a kind of freedom to write about things that matter to them without needing to stretch it into long form. I'm glad you enjoyed it and I hope you have a lovely weekend :)
    Juli @ A Universe in Words

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    1. Yes, "A Temporary Matter" is a very touching story.

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  4. I agree that well-written short stories are a great way to connect with characters and their activities. These sound good. Here's mine: “BRAVE GIRL, QUIET GIRL”

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  5. Try as I have, I am not a fan of short stories, but I'm sure this author's collection is outstanding.

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  6. I've really been enjoying short stories lately. There's something so nice about having a quick read when I don't have much time to read. Thanks for sharing! Hope you have a great weekend! :)

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  7. I don't usually read short stories, but this does sound like a good selection.

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  8. I love a good short story or anthology of them! Hpapy weekend!

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