I just read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I didn’t realize it until I had finished the first chapter, but the book is actually a collection of short stories. At first I was upset because I had grown, in such a short amount of pages, to really feel the emotions being developed in the narrative. I remember putting the book down to go make some tea, excited to pick up where I left off, only to find a new story being introduced. I feel like an idiot now because on the cover of the book it says “stories by Jhumpa Lahiri.” Haha! The book was enjoyable nonetheless.
I can’t pin-point the exact reason why I enjoyed it so much. I’ve tried to explain the book to a few people at work and all I can manage is that the stories are uncomfortably real. It’s almost as if I am ashamed to be privy to the discussion of the characters’ private lives. Maybe it’s her writing style, the way she pays attention to detail, or the fact that it’s been long since I read a story which didn’t end on a positive note. I tried to find a quote to illustrate some of these things, but I just can’t bear to slice up even one of her beautiful paragraphs! You can read one story, The Third and Final Continent, here if you want to see what I’m talking about.
The common theme of the stories is something like “experiences of Indian immigrants living in America.” That’s not to say it’s just a collection of racist horror stories experienced by first-generation Americans, though; I think those kinds of stories may be the low-hanging fruit in this genre. Lahiri writes about awkward relationships, driving licenses, a larger than life-size bust of Jesus, and extremely old ladies, all through the eyes of the new-comers. I am pretty sure it’s all fiction, but a few of the stories end so abruptly with characters in sad states of affairs that you wonder how someone could make up something so melancholy.
I can only guess that the stories were inspired by real-life happenings. If you’re looking for a book of fairy tales, look elsewhere, but if you already know that the real world is kinda depressing sometimes then you should go pick this one up. The book was awarded the Pulitzer prize, so I’m no the only one who liked it. Oh, it’s by the same author as The Namesake if that helps. Go pick it up and let me know what you think. I’d give you my copy but I live in Africa.