Interpreter of maladies : stories

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Paperback, 1999

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Description

Stories about Indians in India and America. The story, A Temporary Matter, is on mixed marriage, Mrs. Sen's is on the adaptation of an immigrant to the U.S., and in the title story an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors.

Media reviews

In this accomplished collection of stories, Jhumpa Lahiri traces the lives of people on two continents -- North America and India -- and in doing so announces herself as a wonderfully distinctive new voice. Indeed, Ms. Lahiri's prose is so eloquent and assured that the reader easily forgets that ''Interpreter of Maladies'' is a young writer's first book.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Reflections: This beautifully-written collection of short stories portrays various “maladies” of the human condition, such as loss, loneliness, and isolation. As the title suggests, Lahiri interprets these maladies for her readers. And she is absolutely brilliant. The emotions raised by each story are so profound, and so deep, that you can’t help but feel them at the core of your own being.
As with any collection, a few stories stood out:
+ A Temporary Matter – A couple mourns the loss of a stillborn baby, and begins sharing secrets with one another during a power outage. Their grief, and the void between them, is palpable.
+ Sexy – Miranda, an American woman, has an affair with a married Indian man. At the same time, her office mate consoles her cousin in India, whose husband has left her for a young English woman. Miranda meets the cousin on a visit to the US and, while babysitting her son, has a revelation about her own romantic relationship.
+ Mrs. Sen’s – An Indian woman has recently arrived in the US, and provides after-school care for a boy while her husband teaches at a local university. She is isolated and lonely, is afraid to drive a car, and longs for friends and comforts of home.
+ The Third and Final Continent – A young man, educated in London, comes to the US to work at a university. He is recently married, and waiting for his wife’s immigration papers to be processed so she can join him. For six weeks he rents a room from Mrs. Croft, a 103-year-old woman whose daughter visits once a week to deliver food. He contemplates the woman’s infirmity and isolation, as well as his own emotional uncertainty about life as a married man.

After each of these stories, I had to set this book aside and allow the feelings to wash over and through me. Despite this, it was difficult to put down and even more difficult to let go of when finished. A wonderful book, and very deserving of the Pulitzer Prize.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
As I noted at the beginning of the year, I am going to re-read one book that I remember as a favorite each month this year. Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies was my first re-read. It held up well. I first read this book when I was in graduate school (2001 or so). I didn't remember many details, but I did remember being impressed with Lahiri's style. Since this book, I've read everything that Lahiri has written and consider her one of my favorite authors.

After the re-read, I still think that Lahiri is a master of short stories. Each detail is well chosen. Each phrase is thick with meaning. Consider these two short sentences about a couple whose relationship is struggling: "He refilled the wine in her glass. She thanked him." There is a lot of meaning in the terseness of that second sentence. Or this sentence, about a young man who is entering an arranged marriage: "I flew first to Calcutta, to attend my wedding, and a week later I flew to Boston, to begin my new job." The word "attend" makes the man seem like a guest at his wedding. The fact that the wedding doesn't even get its own sentence is significant too. These are the rewards that you get from a close reading of Lahiri's stories.

Another thing that is noteworthy about Lahiri's stories is that she doesn't shy away from big themes - creating a life in a foreign country, falling in love, becoming strangers, searching for companionship and support. There are themes woven in and out of these stories, and I think that the title of the collection is a clue to one of them. There is a story in the collection that is titled "Interpreter of Maladies" as well. In that story, Mr. Kapasi works as a tour guide on the weekends, but during the week, he is an interpreter for a doctor. He literally is an interpreter of maladies. But I think that we could also see Lahiri as an interpreter of maladies, making sense of losing a child, observing a war, having an affair, and being shut out by others. Each story encapsulates the maladies of everyday life.

However, I'm not sure that this book will end up on my desert island list or my all-time favorites list when all is said and done, and this may be because Lahiri is too good at what she does. She lays human nature bare, and it isn't always pretty. She doesn't have much sympathy for her characters, and as a result, some of them weren't very likeable. She is an interpreter of maladies, and while I appreciate her ability to play that role, I felt sad for many of the characters. This is the kind of book that I appreciate greatly, but that was sometimes difficult to read. I think this may be why I like Lahiri's short stories better than her novels. I was ready to leave the desperation of these characters behind after 25 pages. But that's also why Lahiri is one of my favorite authors. Anyway who can have that impact with a few well-chosen words deserves respect.
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LibraryThing member ngunapal
The author writes in an unusual but extremely pleasurable style. All the stories within this book give, in a very sensitive way a closer look at the hopes, sorrows, and love in the lives of immigrants from India in the USA as well as some Indians living in India. It is a treat to read.
LibraryThing member george.d.ross
Lahiri's stories of cultural encounters between Indians and Americans feel a little heavy-handed and obvious to me. The prose is elegant, but I don't feel like she's saying anything surprising. She's much stronger in the stories that deal with charcters who share a common cultural background -- her stories of ordinary relationships feel much subtler.… (more)
LibraryThing member Zara.Garcia.Alvarez
Interpreter of Maladies
By Jhumpa Lahiri

The Interpreter of Maladies is not only a collection of nine short stories, but I think, a name well suited to the author, Jhumpa Lahiri. Her writing is direct and easy, yet expertly and artistically controlled. She gives you just enough detail in the right places so that her subtle hints help bridge the landscape of her characters and their stories. Yes, her stories entail the immigrant experience, but they also tell a universal story; the story of ordinary living that compels you to appreciate and consider the implications they have.

There is the story of the couple who has grown apart only to reveal the vulnerable parts of themselves to each other in the dark.

There is the story of the bond between a father figure and a girl only to be separated by borders and the reunion of the man with his missing wife and seven children.

There is the story of desire for an American tourist only to discover she is compelled to confess her own indiscretion to her tour guide.

There is the stigma and scapegoat of a street woman for the woes of an old apartment building.

There is the love and tolerance of an American mistress toward her Bengali lover only to understand the inevitability of the relationship’s failure.

There is the bond and love between an Indian babysitter and a neglected American boy.

And the culmination of a secretly unhappy marriage due to a flamboyant wife compelled to ignore her husband’s wishes by collecting Christian artifacts.

And the story of the isolation and desolation of a woman neglected and misunderstood because of her episodes of epilepsy.

Lahiri is a master storyteller who doesn’t hide behind obtuse language to prove she is a good writer. She tells you just enough so that you can understand her characters’ positions and experiences as if they are your own. And she makes the plots interesting enough, that once you come away from the stories, you linger, wishing there were more.

She is a wonderful ambassador of India and America and what it means to be on the peripheral. I am glad to say that Jhumpa Lahiri is my new heroine as a masterful writer, an intelligent artist, and a person with the heart of a poet.
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
Bitter-sweet is a pretty good way to describe this collection of stories that explore the humanity, relationships, and loneliness of people. "A Temporary Matter" was a gorgeous tale of the secrets kept and shared between a married couple, while "A Real Durwan" is a short and sad tale about an old women who sweeps the stairs of a building.

"When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" is a girl's reflections on a family friend from Pakistan. It's interesting the juxtaposition of her learning about the American Revolution in class, while a real war was threatening in a faraway county, the relation of the concerns of the near compared to the concerns of the far and how they are the same for some.

"Interpreter of Maladies" is an amazing story, one I just now realized I've read before. I didn't properly absorb it then -- so many layers -- and I already feel the desire to read it again, to see what new things I might discover. Gorgeous.

"Sexy" is a melancholy tale of a young woman in an adulterous relationship. I like that though the characters may judge each other, Lahiri as the author doesn't seem to make any judgements herself.

In "Mrs. Sen's", a young boy named Elliot becomes witness to the isolation and loneliness of Mrs. Sen, who takes care of him after school. Very bitter sweet, in fact that's a way to describe most of the stories in this book.

I loved "This Blessed House," which has a newly married couple moving into a house and discovering a menagerie of Christian idols and paraphernalia in various nooks and corners. While the husband hates these things and wishes to throw them out (they are Hindu, after all, not Christian), the wife is fascinated by them and treats the situation as a treasure hunt. The course of these discoveries reveals just how much they are strangers, and the ending is more bitter than sweet.

"The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" and "The Third and Final Continent" were my least favorite stories in the collection, but they were still worthy tales keeping with the same bitter and sweet emotions. It is clear why Jhumpa Lahiri was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this collection. Her writing is beautiful and she has a wonderful way of revealing the multi-layered humanity of people.
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LibraryThing member bragan
A collection of short stories, all focusing on Indians or Indian-Americans. They're simple, quiet, domestic stories that provide glimpses into the lives of very ordinary-seeming people, and yet at the same time they feel incredibly layered and rich. The writing is excellent, too, in a way that's unpretentious yet wonderfully effective. Several times I found myself finishing a story setting the book down and just whispering to myself, "Wow, she's good."… (more)
LibraryThing member emmakendon
“A Temporary Matter” sets the tone of Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing, delicately plain and standing on the outside looking in, - but right in, to how the changed behaviour of one half of a couple effects the other and how they journey down a dark (power-cut) cul-de-sac of intimacy.

The next story, “When Mr Pirzada Came to Dine”, contained one of the most memorable moments for me, when schoolgirl Lila returns from trick-or-treating to find the pumpkin at home decimated. The pumpkin had accidentally been given an “expression of placid astonishment” because of a knife slipping during a news bulletin on the television earlier in the evening. The far-away war is being reported on the television throughout the story, and juxtaposed with this young girl’s mixed Indian-American life, the safeties and the threats in this story add to the sense of placelessness, uprooting and things half-understood that pervades the stories.

Another favourite moment of mine came in the eponymous story where Mr Kapasi’s shame at his translating job is lifted, and quite rightly, by Mrs Das pointing out the crucial importance of the precision of his translation – which is at a doctor’s surgery.

“A Real Durwan”, the next story, set in Calcutta, is almost like a folk-story, the way the residents of the building turn into an amorphous crowd behind this one character, and then “Sexy” hurls us back into the US - Boston. “Mrs Sen” grabs your sympathy, as, homesick in the US with her university professor husband, she struggles with driving and with alternative ways of getting a fresh fish home. “This Blessed House” left me pretty cold as a young Hindu couple unearth more and more gaudy Christiana in the house they’ve move into, until Sanjeev took final stock of his lot and the partner he’s stuck with, having been urged by their families into marriage.

“The Treatment of Bibi Haldar” echoes Boori Ma in “A Real Durwan”, set back in India with a twenty-nine year-old woman suffering fits and dependent on her brother and sister-in-law, but in her case relatively well looked after by the neighbourhood. “The Third and Final Continent” sort-of dropped me back at the airport in no man’s land in a way, which is odd since it’s celebrating a man’s courage in settling down in a new country. But on the way there, I thoroughly enjoyed the gentleness of the narrator towards his cranky old landlady, Mrs Croft – “the first life I had admired”.

She’s a lucid writer, and her characters are mostly gentle, believable, foolish or strong – they’re a pleasure to be with, and I’m sure the stories resonate with 1st generation immigrants to the West from India.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
I really loved this book that contains nine short stories, and I can see why it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000. These stories share the theme of individuals who are working to marry their Indian culture with their American lives. The writing is elegant but not overly embellished. The speakers are ordinary people who are navigating two cultural divides and looking for middle ground, for harmony - people who struggle with finding their own voice in a world that is full of noise. Like an album whose layout has been carefully planned so that each song fits perfectly into place, creating pacing and progression that gives the album added depth and dimension, this collection of stories has a flow from beginning to end. There is not one false note here, and the result is simply breathtaking. The very last story The Third and Final Continent was my favorite, but I also truly loved Mrs. Sen and This Blessed House.

"While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and I am certainly not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination."
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LibraryThing member sturlington
This is a beautiful collection of short stories. Each one is nearly perfect. Lahiri writes characters very well, and her stories provide a wonderful insight into Indian and Indian immigrant culture. If there is a theme, it seems to be about loss or disappointed expectations, particularly in marriage and family relationships. Even though some of the stories were sad, the tone never came across as bleak or hopeless. In that way, they rang very true to life for me.

Read for book club (2015).
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LibraryThing member Berly
This debut of short stories is stunning! Set in India and America, these are quick glimpses into the lives of people looking for love and acceptance, sweeping between generations and nations. My favorite collection of short stories of all time. Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer. Need I say more?
LibraryThing member Amelia_Smith
I remember the buzz about this book when it came out a decade ago, but somehow never got around to reading it until yesterday/today. I really enjoyed these stories.
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Wonderfully written short stories that explore relationships. Spare but exquisitely crafted.

This collection of short stories won the Pullitzer Prize. Lahiri is a great observer of life. While writing with a distinct cultural view, she explores universal themes of grief and connectedness.
LibraryThing member Marensherry
Enjoying the moment, the simple moments that can change ones life is what this book is about. We join a journey where we experience a moment in time, doing something the characters may have done daily or even hourly, yet one day something clicks and a new outlook, a new thought, a new idea sparks and this, a simple moment, arrives and changes a life. Lahiri writes beautifully making me feel those moments that can change one's world.… (more)
LibraryThing member mschwander
In each of these short stories, Lahiri's beautiful writing describes the discontent and alienation her characters individually experience as American immigrants from India. From a young married couple who find themselves drifting apart, to an Indian woman who confides in the young, American boy she babysits, the reader gets a fascinating look at the complicated life of these soulful characters.… (more)
LibraryThing member mrstreme
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri? I feel like the last person in the book world who hasn’t read it – and I am not sure what I was waiting for. Interpreter of Maladies was beautiful, poignant and thought-provoking, full of stories and characters that I will remember for a long time.

This Pulitzer winner was a collection of short stories – all centered around “maladies” that affect humans, such as loneliness, homesickness and regret. Each story touches on one malady, brilliantly represented by characters of Indian origin (either living in India or the U.S.). The stories brought the reader through a full range of emotions – sometimes happiness, other times grief. This was no small feat, considering you get to know the characters in only a few pages. That’s a testament to the power of Lahiri’s writing. Each short story evoked an emotional and very human response.

Another reviewer commented that she wished each short story was a full novel. I couldn’t agree more. Interpreter of Maladies packed richness in every punch. I am not an avid reader of short stories – mostly because I want more after finishing the story – but I learned with this book that wanting more is a good thing. Without a doubt, Interpreter of Maladies left me wanting to read more by this talented young writer.
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LibraryThing member jjo
I wanted every short story to be its own novel - loved this book!
LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
A collection of short stories mostly relating to domestic or relationship issues. The stories are unexpectedly piercing and sometimes brutal (but always in an elegant way). Lahiri writes beautifully. Recommended.
LibraryThing member tedmahsun
Nine short stories that deal with the Indian diaspora in the US. Prose is simple and quick to understand. Wonderful light reading.
LibraryThing member WittyreaderLI
This set of stories won the Pullitzer prize. But like many short story collections, not every single story is excellent. However, most of these stories are insightful and entertaining.
LibraryThing member beowulf
I first picked up this book because I wanted to know what a book of short stories that won the Pulitzer Prize looked like. I was not disappointed. This is the first book of short stories that I read that I could not put down. The stories were so engrossing and so beautifully written; it was compelling reading. You could feel the characters, really got to know them through simple gestures. Highly recommended reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member rayski
A number of short stories about Indian experiences migrating around Boston and learning American life.
LibraryThing member davidabrams
To say that Jhumpa Lahiri is a good writer is like calling Michael Jordan a decent ball player. In her debut collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri’s wordsmithery is every bit as dazzling as Air Jordan moving the ball down the court and bringing the crowd to its feet. In short: she shoots, she scores!

Born in London to Indian parents, Lahiri grew up in Rhode Island, but visited India several times over the years. In the collection’s nine stories, she draws on this immigrant experience to create worlds where characters live in a political and social limbo—one foot in this country, the other back in the homeland. Some of the tales are set in the 1960s when America and countries like Pakistan were going through similar political turmoil.

Though none of the stories are anything less than perfect, the very best ones are set in the United States and are so intimate, so fine-tuned that it wouldn’t surprise me to find they’re drawn at least partially from Lahiri’s own experience.

In “Sexy,€? a young American woman has an affair with a man she meets at a department store perfume counter. When he tells her he’s a Bengali, she thinks it’s a religion until he condescendingly shows her a map. Lahiri skillfully moves the reader through all the stages of an extramarital affair, as seen through the eyes of an insecure young woman fumbling toward independence.

The title story—set in India—brings us infidelity from a man’s perspective as a tour guide fantasizes about the unhappy housewife he’s escorting through a temple. She asks him to write his address on a scrap of paper and, mistaking her meaning, his hopes begin to soar. When the wind later blows away that piece of paper, his pain is sharp and poignant.

“When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dinnerâ€? describes what happens when an immigrant couple invites a visiting Pakistani professor to dine with them each night as the television news broadcasts civil war atrocities back in Pakistan where Mr. Pirzada has left his wife and children. The story is told by the couple’s ten-year-old daughter who is alternately delighted and puzzled by Mr. Pirzada.

He was a compact man, and though his feet were perpetually splayed, and his belly slightly wide, he nevertheless maintained an efficient posture, as if balancing in either hand two suitcases of equal weight. His ears were insulated by tufts of graying hair that seemed to block out the unpleasant traffic of life.

You can easily see Lahiri’s Michael Jordan skills are work in that character description. Trust me, that is not an isolated example of her talent. Here are a couple of others for your reading pleasure:

The man was tanned, with black hair that was visible on his knuckles. He wore a flamingo pink shirt, a navy blue suit, a camel overcoat with gleaming leather buttons.

and

She had silver eyes and skin as pale as paper, and the contrast with her hair, as dark and glossy as an espresso bean, caused people to describe her as striking, if not pretty.

This is the kind of prose that turns aspiring writers several shades of green in the time it takes them to read one paragraph. Interpreter of Maladies won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, among other well-deserved heaps of prizes and praise from critics. The fact that Lahiri has honed a talent this pristine at such a relative young age (33) is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Each story is polished until it gleams like a many-faceted gem (or a glossy coffee bean). She writes of marriages—with all their strained silences and lonely dinners—with the depth and perception of seasoned American masters like John Updike and John Cheever.

My favorite selection is the first story—“A Temporary Matterâ€?—where a married couple near the brink of divorce rediscovers a tentative, fragile kind of love, thanks to a nightly power outage. The “temporary matterâ€? refers as much to their marriage as it does to the electric company’s planned maintenance. In the flickering candlelight, the husband sees his wife in, literally, a whole new light:

He pictured her face clearly in the dark, the wide tilting eyes, the full grape-toned lips, the fall at age two from her high chair still visible as a comma on her chin. Each day, Shukumar noticed, her beauty, which had once overwhelmed him, seemed to fade. The cosmetics that had seemed superfluous were necessary now, not to improve her but to define her somehow.

Wow. Even re-reading it now, breath catches in my throat. Interpreter of Maladies is filled with hundreds of moments like that—incredible, impeccable moments of realization, sorrow, love, pity and triumph—all of them written with the kind of strength that brings a crowd to its feet.
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LibraryThing member TPLThing
Of course this is not a new book. Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000 with this collection of short stories. I read it several years ago and just picked it up again. I usually don't like short stories all that much because they're--well--just too short. I really like more character development and I find I'm just getting into the story and starting to know the character and then--it's over. But these stories are so well crafted that I was very satisfied with the reading. Even in just a glimpse that you're given, Lahiri makes her characters very knowable. If you haven't already read this one, I highly recommend it.… (more)
LibraryThing member cmeatto
A gifted author, top 10 of the last 10 years. The lost art of the short story.

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