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#BookReview: The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

“In those six weeks I regarded her arrival as I would the arrival of a coming month, or season – something inevitable, but meaningless at the same time.”― Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

I just picked up Jhumpa Lahiri ‘s – The Interpreter of Maladies during my stay at the Parvada Bungalows near Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand. Its a hobby of mine to dig into libraries of the places I stay in and I have to say I was quite envious of the collection here. I sincerely hope I get to go back as there are plenty of books that I want to read in their shelves.

Title: The Interpreter of Maladies

Genre: Fiction / short stories collection

Publisher: Rupa Publications

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

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This is a Pulitzer award winner and after reading it through, I completely agree with that distinction bestowed on it. Each and every story in this collection is worth one’s time. Its difficult for me to pick out my favorites and I will highlight just three of them here to pique your interest.

The treatment of Bibi Haldar – This complex story deals with a young woman and her mysterious ailment which has rendered her incapable of being left alone. She is watched at all times and is not allowed to perform any strenuous tasks. Bibi Haldar moans her lack of good fortune and is sure she will be left alone while all others will find a mate to marry. She has undergone every possible home remedy / medical treatment at the suggestions of all those around her; yet her mysterious illness refuses to pass.

Finally someone mentions marriage as a cure to her troubles. There is a hunt for someone suitable to marry her but her illness has scared off most people and she soon becomes a recluse. Her relatives leave her and neighbors begin to leave her food and check on her once in a while. A few months later its found out that she is pregnant though there is no sign of her suitor. Once the baby is born her illness disappears and she revives her relative’s abandoned business to make ends meet now.

“She was like that, excited and delighted by little things, crossing her fingers before any remotely unpredictable event, like tasting a new flavor of ice cream, or dropping a letter in a mailbox.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

This blessed house – A sweet tale about a very mismatched couple who marry over a love for PG Wodehouse but later start noticing their stark differences. There is the lackadaisical 27 year old Twinkle who delights in finding Jewish/Christian artefacts in the new house she has moved into with her new husband, Sanjeev. Much to his horror, she wants to display each and every article she has unearthed and is now treating this as a treasure hunt. Matters come to a head when she invites all of his colleagues and kind neighbors to a house warming. Everyone is bemused or charmed by her obsession and she soon leads them all through this treasure hunt.

As much as he protests, Sanjeev is overruled when Twinkle suggests digging through the attic – the only unexplored area of the house so far. While all of his guests tramp upstairs, Sanjeev goes through some philosophical musings of his own about his marriage and wife.

“Something happened when the house was dark. They were able to talk to each other again.”― Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

A temporary matter – This is a bittersweet tale (and the best in the whole collection) about a marriage that seems to be hanging precariously over the unresolved emotions of a miscarriage. Husband and wife have learnt to tiptoe around each other and get through the day without engaging in much talk with each other. One day a notice form the electricity department about a line repair and a subsequent one hour of load shedding, gets them to talk a little.

Normally both would eat dinner in their respective corners of the house but the power cut forces them to dine under candlelight and together. Its the wife who starts talking about some random stuff and soon they form a routine of telling each other such things. In fact it becomes the highlight of their day to think up of something to tell the other person. What was it about a power cut that bought them closer?

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Lasting impression on me:

I had earlier read Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection titled “Unaccustomed Earth” and was hooked to her style of bringing about journeys of immigrant Bengalis from around the world.

This collection too has some gems in the same vein. The entire dialogue is peppered with cultural and gourmet references of Bengali lifestyle, marking it with a certain familiarity for the Indian readers.

I loved all of the stories which had some relatable characters. Their bewilderment at facing challenges in an alien country, so far removed from their familiar traditions, food and lifestyle and how they learn to adapt and make it their home; is a solid trademark in these stories.

Then there are the ones based closer to home which weave human bonds into unique ties that tighten or break apart at a curious rate. I was seduced into getting intertwined with these lives and couldnt wait to come till the end to know what would happen. Most often its not a happy ending, yet the characters linger and one yearns for more to read about them.

My rating:

I won’t spoil the surprise but would recommend you to read this book, if you are a fan of short stories or Jhumpa Lahiri or both- you will not be disappointed at all.

My rating 4/5 stars for the well written stories and warm huggable characters. This books was 197 pages long so just fell under the 200 pages criteria to be included in my #TBRCHALLENGE2020

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4 thoughts on “#BookReview: The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

    1. Hmmm would agree on that Shinjini about the repetitive patterns in that collection. This one has each one set to another beat and is unique in that sense. I can totally get why this got the Pulitzer.

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