Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Short Story Wednesday: When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine by Jhumpa Lahiri


"When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine"
from Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books, 1999)

The year is 1971, and Lilia is ten years old the year Mr. Pirzada comes to visit. He is studying in the U.S. on a government grant while his family, his wife and seven daughters, remain in Dacca in east Pakistan. What makes the distance all the more difficult is the fact that Dacca is fighting for its independence and then add to that a war between Pakistan and India. Lilia watches the news each night alongside her parents and Mr. Pirzada. She does not fully understand what is going on, but knows that it is bad.

At school, she is learning about American history and it seems worlds away from the current day horrors that has her family on edge. Her father tells her about the Partition of 1947, about the country being "sliced up", and about the animosity between the Muslims and Hindus. She learns all this when her father explains to her why Mr. Pirzada is not Indian, which is how she has always thought of him. This isn't something she easily understand. He looks the same. He eats the same types of foods, and he speaks the same language.

Jhumpa Lahiri's story may be short, but it is rich in emotion and detail. While the reader never really knows what is going on inside Mr. Pirzada's head, it's not hard to imagine. Lilia longs to comfort him, but isn't quite sure how. Through a child's eyes, Lahiri explores the juxtaposition of two cultures: the American and the one her parents came from. Perhaps in a smaller way, it is also the story of Lilia becoming more socially aware. One of my favorite scenes in the story is when she seeks out a book on Asia in the school library. I was a little miffed at the teacher's reaction, but then, Lilia was supposed to be working on a particular assignment, not off exploring on her own. Still. I think the teacher could have handled it better.
I prayed that Mr. Pirzada's family was safe and sound. I had never prayed before, had never been taught or told to, but I decided, given the circumstances, that it was something I should do. That night when I went to the bathroom I only pretended to brush my teeth, for I feared that I would somehow rinse the prayer out as well. [pg 32]

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
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11 comments:

  1. I'm going to be reading Interpreter of Maladies in February. I'm really looking forward to it.

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  2. I need to read this. And more short stories in general. I love the idea of Short Story Wednesday. :-) Have a great week Wendy!

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  3. I really enjoyed the stories in this book!

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  4. I have Interpreter of Maladies on Mt. TBR, and recently read The Namesake, which I loved. I like Lahiri's style of writing, quiet and lyrical.

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  5. This was such an amazing book. This story was really good, but the scary thing is that many of the others are even better. I've got Unaccustomed Earth on my short term TBR and I can't wait to read it.

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  6. I'll have to look out for this book since I've heard nothing but raves about it. Thanks for the lovely review, Wendy!

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  7. I read this book with my book club, and I thought it was fantastic. I'm not usually a fan of short stories but this book packed a powerful punch. Glad you're enjoying it!

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  8. Ahh, I love Jhumpa Lahiri. I even have the pleasure of teaching one of her stories in my creative writing class this term. I really would love to re-read Interpreter of Maladies, and I need to get around to Unaccustomed Earth, too.

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  9. I love your new header Wendy! I just changes mine this last week.

    Interpreter of Maladies is the book that made me fall in love with the art of short stories. Before that I didn't like them. The only reason I read the book was because my book club chose it. Now I am very thankful to my book club. Lahiri is a master of the art of short story!

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  10. Thank you all for your comments! I'll be reviewing each of the stories in this collection separately. While some stories I liked better than others, I can see why this collection is so popular! I hope those of you who have not yet had a chance to read it will enjoy it!

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  11. Hi Wendy, I need to get this book now. I don't usually read short stories but I will give Lahiri a go. I have two of her full-length novels but haven't read them.

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