Rohit's Realm

// / archive / 2011 / 05 / 15 / rohit-reviews-interpreter-of-maladies

May 15, 2011

Rohit Reviews: Interpreter of Maladies

Interpreter of Maladies

As the long and largely gloomy list of books I have reviewed on this site over the past seven odd years should make clear, I am not a person particularly enamored with contemporary literature, and certainly not short stories. Indeed, the last short story collection I read was probably Anton Chekhov's Stories for an English class at Cal back in 2003. Less justifiably, I think, I am also not a person who frequently reads works by female authors, though I had never given it much thought until it was pointed out to me by a friend who noticed a dearth of such works on my bookshelves. It was that same latter observation that prompted my friend to gift me Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, among others, which I completed today.

I was of course familiar with Lahiri from The Namesake, a book which I had long been meaning to pick up but to which I had never gotten around. After completing the Interpreter of Maladies, I think it will be one I will be picking up sooner rather than later (though the question of whether to purchase a paperback or Kindle version continues to vex).

What struck me first and foremost about Interpreter of Maladies from the very first story (A Temporary Matter) was the restraint with which Lahiri manipulated the form. Far too often, I think, the short stories I occasionally indulge in The New Yorker employ vicious and soul crushing tragedy to drive the story. Perhaps the constraints imposed by length make this inevitable, but then it's only that much more impressive when an author can achieve a similarly compelling narrative without reaching for absurd twists of fate or horrendous misfortunes. What makes this collection particularly powerful is the sad realities of life it so poignantly captures, from the all too familiar tales of marital infidelities to the loneliness of the immigrant experience. Melancholy, not tragedy, is the theme of this collection.

Though each story in Interpreter of Maladies features a principal character that is Indian, either at home or abroad, there is a broad assortment of perspectives, covering both women and men, Indians and non-Indians. And while Indian food, culture, and thought is ever-present throughout the book, this is not principally a book about Indians—the stories encapsulate life experiences that are not driven by ethnicity or national origin. That some of the characters happen to be Indian is merely incidental.

That said, I have no doubt that my being of Indian origin allowed me to identify more closely with these narratives than perhaps others who are not. The experience of growing up in an Indian immigrant household in the States is certainly something I am familiar with, and Lahiri captures the ambiance and aura of that experience with particular grace and sensitivity.

Overall, despite my general disdain bordering on contempt for contemporary literature, I would highly recommend this collection. It's a quick and effortless read that nevertheless manages to chronicle an impressive breadth of experiences. My favorite stories were probably the title story (Interpreter of Maladies) and the last one (The Third and Final Continent). Four stars of five.


You should definitely check out Unaccustomed Earth, her last set of short stories. Her restraint is masterful, and I think you'll see yourself in the suburban families.

Add Comment





* required field

E-mail addresses will never be displayed. The following HTML tags are allowed:
a abbr acronym address big blockquote br cite del em li ol p pre q small strong sub sup ul