Book 133: The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

5439 The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Finished reading on April 14th, 2014

Rating: 9/10

The Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories by the Indian American author Jhumpa Lahiri that was first published in 1999 and won the Pulitzer prize in 2000.

The stories are for most part about people who are living in a different country for the first generation, mostly Indians living in USA. Although the stories are short one gets a good sense of what the characters are about and why they do certain things, they are however sad from at least from one of the character’s perspective, which was fascinating, as there are small problems for some people, that become bigger to others only because of knowing someone who has issues…

I enjoyed the last short story the most – The Third and Final Continent.

It is about a Bengali, who has lived in United Kingdom, just gotten married in Calcutta to a girl that his parents arranged for her, and has just moved to USA and is trying to adjust there before his wife will come there as well.

“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.”

It’s possible I liked this story the most, because I felt I could understand this one the best, mostly because of this:

“In a week I had adjusted, more or less. I ate cornflakes and milk, morning and night, and bought some bananas for variety, slicing them into the bowl with the edge of my spoon.”

Yes, it’s because of the food – eating the same thing over and over again, and the food being something that is generally considered breakfast food. I’ve seen that. I’ve done it myself. And it reminded me of the movie Wake Up Sid, only the part where Sid is staying in the apartment and not being happy at all because he doesn’t know how to cook and hasn’t eaten the whole day… Although the main character in the story does know how to cook, but for a while he simply lacks the necessary equipment for cooking, but when his wife arrives from India, he cooks egg curry, and later she starts cooking for him and he isn’t used to that kind of thing.

So in general I liked the stories. I haven’t had dinner yet, so I’m focusing on the eating and cooking themes here, but there were others like being far away from family and friends who are in a war-zone and hence in danger and one can do nothing to help.

There’s also the sadness of a couple drifting apart and getting a little bit closer again, but all for the sake of an even bigger blow to the relationship.

I liked the stories, but as with so many books that I review – it’s not a book that makes for happy reading, it’s not fun, it’s kind of unlikely to make you laugh (even eating cornflakes for every meal isn’t funny..)


For a review of Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel The Namesake (2003) see here.


6 thoughts on “Book 133: The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

  1. This is really my favourite short story collection of all times. I’ve read Lahiri’s The Namesake, and this year The Lowland, but it’s her Interpreter of Maladies stories that touched me the most. It’s true, there’s a certain sadness to them all but I think that’s made me relate to them even more.

    • I still have to get to The Lowland.
      Yes, exactly, it’s easier to relate to sad stories, and I think a lot of times it seems that it’s likelier to be excellent writing if the stories are sad rather than when they’re happy or funny.

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