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Friday, April 18, 2014

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Book Review: The Interpreter of Maladies

I have been anxiously waiting to read this anthology of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri for several months now. I am a huge fan of her book "The Namesake" and had heard only incredible things about these stories. I can already assure you I was not disappointed. The careful details that are expertly woven into these stories make it too easy to get lost in them. I read each story in one sitting, unable to put the book down in the middle. Some stories I read back to back, and I always felt satisfied jumping from story to story. What is so impressive about this anthology is that Jhumpa is able to cover a wide range of topics, while still maintaining a set of themes and motivations that are present in every story. Each story felt like a lesson that someone whom you looked up to would tell you in confidence to alert you to a situation you may face in your life, and how to be prepared for them. Her characters all feel painfully real, which is both sobering and inviting.

I chose to only review two of the stories for my review today, because I wanted to be able to hash out the stories extensively enough to convey their importance. I hope to review the others later on, and I highly recommend you pick this book up immediately. 

A Temporary Matter

The first of the nine stories is an intimate look at the everyday struggles of a young married couple who have recently faced one of life’s most tragic losses, a miscarriage. Shoba and Shukamar have spent six months working through the tragedy, and we meet them on a week where the electricity will be cut for one hour every night for a week. For a couple who have spent the better part of six months avoiding each other in their two story apartment, this serves as a wake-up call. The two are forced to face their issues head on, and attempt to communicate the incommunicable. Shukamar, in an attempt to connect with his wife, decides that he will cook dinner every night, and they will eat by candlelight together at their dining room table. To his surprise, she introduces a game; they must tell each other one thing that they have never told anyone, each night. The game opens up the doors to their communication, and it brings back wonderful and painful memories. 

This story really resonated with me because the idea of an unavoidable end to something as meaningful as marriage is very tragic. To see these two people who clearly have love for one another unable to move past their tragic circumstances and rebuild their marriage is heartbreaking. The sensory details included in Shukamar’s flashbacks made their pain all too real for me. These are the emotional details that have drawn me to Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories, and they are even more impressive when presented in short story form. Impressive, and equally as powerful.

The Interpreter of Maladies

The title story provides us with an entirely new perspective on similar subject matter. This story revolves around Mr. Kapasi, a tour guide who spends the day driving around a young couple and their three children. From the beginning, we see Mr. Kapasi take interest in Mrs. Das, a beautiful but apathetic woman. As the tour progresses, Mrs. Das goes from unresponsive to inquisitive towards Mr. Kapasi, and her sudden and unprovoked interest only strengthens his feelings towards her. He does not see her as a sexual being, but rather as an escape from his present, mundane life. She promises adventure and romance and mystery, and currently, he feels emotionless and uninterested in his everyday life. He romanticizes Mrs. Das so heavily that it almost seems like he is not listening to what she is saying, or comprehending how she is behaving. He spends the day fantasizing of a future relationship between the two of them.

Although it may seem like Mr. Kapasi falls into this alternate reality too quickly, I can attest to how easy it can be to vividly fantasize a better situation when you are stuck in an unpleasant one. For me, it is usually briefer moments, but Mr. Kapasi seeks to escape from his entire life. This speeds up the process significantly.

The title of the story plays a major role in the interaction between Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das, but the beauty of their misunderstanding is too good to spoil.

Without giving too much away, this story highlighted the ever present idea that nothing is as it seems, especially to a desperate man. The lives of those that we envy are not the paradises they seem to be. Although this seems to be a cliché idea, it is always helpful to be reminded.

All in all, I enjoyed these stories as much as I think I possibly could have. I was immersed in each situation and after each one, I felt as though I had personally experienced them. The detail and raw emotion was so real that for me, this could have been pages from a diary I had written, even though each protagonist was wildly different than me. I recommend this anthology to everyone, but especially an aspiring writer. 

Title: The Interpreter of Maladies

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Genre: Short Stories

Recommendation: Absolutely

Best Reader Audience: Adult Male and Female Readers

Final Rating: 5 out of 5 Bunny Bums!

Want to immerse yourself in Jhumpa Lahiri's beautiful stories? Use the link below and your purchase will help support the Lone Book Club!

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