Jhumpa Lahiri is an author I’ve often thought I should read but never got around to doing so. So when a friend from work told me that Lahiri’s short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, was one of her favorite books and she’d lend it to me, I immediately took her up on the offer, and I’m so glad I did.
Set primarily in Boston and India, Interpreter of Maladies tells 9 stories of the Indian and Indian-American experience, but honestly, they should be considered stories of the human experience: how love, loss, and dreams tear us apart and bind us together over generations. A young couple deals with the tragic stillbirth of their baby. A young boy learns of the confines and beauties of his neighbor’s world due to her fear of driving. Other couples navigate the uncertain waters of new marriages, arranged and unarranged. An interpreter guides an uninterested American family through their history in India. A young woman finds herself after becoming increasingly uncomfortable with her status as her married boyfriend’s mistress. A neighborhood in Boston deals with nightly blackouts. The emotions and dreams and experiences are familiar even when the specific situations may not be, and Lahiri’s characters feel like our friends and family and even ourselves.
Honestly, after each story I felt sad. Not a loud, vocal sadness but a quiet, heavy sadness that sat in my chest. Sadness for the small injustices of daily life, sadness for the momentary regrets and frustrations, sadness for those characters who felt such sadness themselves. But then came the last story, and it was such an uplifting story of hope that it made me appreciate and even savor the emotional journey Lahiri had just taken me on. Lahiri does not deal in explosives but rather in simple realities of the every day, and as I finished the last story feeling such satisfaction with my reading experience, I realized how deft a writer Lahiri is. She is an author who has mastered both the art and the craft of writing, and she has done so in the most subtle yet effective ways. Despite her subtlety, though, she wrote some of the most gorgeous prose I have ever read in these stories. Sentences that would just knock me over and leave me breathless with their simple beauty. I don’t ever really remember ever being quite so bowled over by language before. I wish that I had written some of her language down to share with you, but I didn’t and I returned my friend’s book long ago upon finishing it. So I leave it to you to go read it and see for yourself.
Interpreter of Maladies is one of those books that sticks with you long after you finish, one of the reasons it’s taken me a while to write this post, actually. After finishing it, you just want to ruminate on it for a while. But don’t mistake that for a reluctance to recommend. Just the opposite, in fact. I am so grateful that I finally read some of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work. She is a true master of the written word, and it was a privilege to spend some time with her writing. I’m looking forward to reading more, and I encourage you to do so as well.