Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Short Story Wednesday: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

"Interpreter of Maladies"
from Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books, 1999)

I actually read this collection of stories this past year but had stopped in between each story to jot down my thoughts. You're seeing them now because I ran out of time to post them last year. Plus, I figured I'd get a head start on blog material for this next year.

I wasn't quite as enamored with the title story from Jhumpa Lahiri's short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, as I have been with her other stories. That isn't to say it was not good, just that I did not feel the connection to it that I have with many of the other stories.

Mr. Kapasi is a part-time tour guide who often takes English speaking tourists to various points of interest in India. He once had big dreams of being an interpreter on the international scene, but settled for working as an interpreter at a doctor's office and giving tours on the side.

In this particular story, he is taking an American family of Indian descent to the Sun Temple. Mr. and Mrs. Das have three young children, a girl and two boys. They are very American and Mr. Kapasi is quick to notice their cultural differences, despite their shared ethnicity. As the story progresses, Mr. Kapasi begins to see how much alike this American family is to his own, however. Some things know no borders.

Mr. Kapasi is greatly flattered when Mrs. Das takes an interest in his job as an interpreter. She even goes so far as to call it "romantic." It gives him something to think about. He's always seen his job with the doctor as being one he settled for because of financial woes, not something to be especially proud of. Her comment also sets something else off inside him, and soon she is revealing a secret to him that she has not told anyone.

"Interpreter of Maladies" is a complex story and Mr. Kapasi goes through several levels of thoughts and feelings throughout its course. Lahiri yet again captures the essence of her characters and brings them to life, flawed and vulnerable but not weak. This is one of those stories that puts reality next to fantasy and then swings back to reality. Lesson learned: Don't feed the monkeys.
All along the path, dozens of monkeys were seated on stones, as well as on the brances of the trees. Their hind legs were stretched out in front and raised to shoulder level, their arms resting on their knees. [pg 61]

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  1. I started this collection during my Indian fiction phase, but had to return it to the library before I was done. Should probably get back to it one of these days!

  2. I read this book last summer, and it was one of my coveted 5 star books. I did really like this story. The Americans were hideous people, and I felt such sympathy for the cab driver. He was so needy! My emotions were all over the place with this one.

  3. I am planning to read this very soon. It seems like something that is perfect for me. But I won't want to feed the monkeys???

  4. I haven't read many short stories these days, and I haven't read this one. But thanks for the honest review

  5. Ah, perspective. She thought his life was romantic, and he thought hers was. Neither was, once they got to know each other a bit. She was horrible and he was pathetic (hoping for the letter?)
    I liked this story, and I really liked the title.

  6. I listened to this one on audio and really enjoyed it that way which says a lot since I'm not a fan of short stories.

  7. I was going to have my Creative Writing class read this story a while back, but for the life of me I couldn't remember what it was about. Sadly, it was one of the stories from this collection that stuck with me the least. Still need to go back and re-read it, though, to see if I want to teach it in the future since it's built into the textbook.

  8. I really liked this story. I actually liked almost all of them in this collection.

  9. I really liked this story collection, but it's been awhile since I have read it. I do remember some of the stories being a little stronger than others and some struck me a bit more flavorful than others. I actually think that this was my favorite book by Lahiri, and though I liked The Namesake a lot, I do remember this book with much more fondness. Great review, I like that you are reviewing one story at a time. Will you continue in this vein? This is also my first visit to your blog. It's a very nice place, and I'll be back!

  10. If I remember correctly, this was my least favourite story in the book - which isn't to say I didn't like it! It's just that the others are SO good.

  11. I haven't read any of Jhumpa Lahiri's short stories yet. I read her novel and while I liked it, I didn't seem to love it as much as some others did. I have to read Unaccustomed Earth for That's How I Blog!, so hopefully I will enjoy a few of those.

  12. Lenore - I hate it when that happens! I hope you are able to try again some day.

    Sandy - This is a great collection of stories. Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the better short fiction writers I've come across.

    Christine - I have a feeling you will really enjoy this collection, Christine. :-)

    But definitely avoid feeding the monkeys.

    Serena - I'm trying to read more short stories, particularly in between my novel reading. I'm not having much success though. LOL

    Elizabeth (Raidergirl3) - Yes, the title was genius and very fitting.

    Dar - I think Jhumpa Lahiri has drawn in quite a few people who don't normally read short stories. She's quite gifted.

  13. Andi - I can see it being good material for a writing class. I don't imagine this one will stick long with me either, I'm afraid. I did like it though.

    Staci - The entire collection was quite good, but there were definitely stories I liked better than others. I don't think there was a story I didn't like to some degree.

    Zibilee - Thank you for stopping by! I recently discovered your blog too and am looking forward to visiting more with you. :-)

    I enjoyed The Namesake as well, although I do think I prefer her short stories. I haven't yet read The Unaccustomed Earth, but I hope to at some point this year.

    I do plan to post reviews of each of the short stories in this collection. I will probably break it up though and post one a month with other stories in between now and then.

    Nymeth - Yes, very good point. All the stories were good. I just have my favorites among them. :-)

    Nicole (Linus's Blanket) - I look forward to your thoughts on Unaccustomed Earth. I haven't had the chance to read that one yet. I liked The Namesake, but, like you, I didn't fall in love with it like so many others seemed to. I did come to appreciate it more after seeing the movie though.

  14. Okay, I have decided that this is my next read after my curent book and my next book club assignment.

  15. I have several of Lahiri's books and look forward to them. Hopefully soon. :)

  16. Christine - I hope you will enjoy it!

    Joy - I am glad I finally got around to reading this collection. It's been on my shelf forever. And after hearing everyone talk about it so much, I figured it was time.


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