I’ve actually had Interpreter of Maladies on my bookshelf since it was published. I think maybe my grandmother gave it to me right when it came out. The cover is very familiar to me, but I’d never read it until now. My loss.
This will be short, but don’t take it as a knock on the book. It’s good. It’s no Crime and Punishment, of course. But I liked reading it.
This is a easy, quick read. It’s series of short stories that focus on the intersection of Indian and American culture. Many stories are about marriage and the comforts found in reminders of home.
Though the book is vivid at times, it’s mostly subdued and quiet. The first story, about a couple who has experienced a recent miscarriage, was the most haunting for me. But many of the stories had the same echoing resonance as this first one, kind of clanging around in my head after they’ve concluded.
Lahiri’s style is indistinct to me, but that’s not really a criticism. Her writing does not get in the way of the stories. She conveys them with ease, without including the distractions more amateur writers will throw in. She is a teller of interesting tales, and while her style is elegant and serious, it is also not the kind of voice you would recognize if you read something she wrote.
There aren’t a lot of characters that stand out to me. It’s hard to develop deep characters in a short story, and I think only the most masterful of short story magicians (ah, Karen Russell!) can do such a thing. There are some unusual and interesting folks that you’ll meet in Interpreter of Maladies: the observant interpreter himself; Bibi Haldar, the outcast old-maid-in-the-making; and eccentric Twinkle, who so obliviously leaves her husband feeling alone in the marriage. But I had to really think about it to remember characters that I thought stood out. It’s the stories that stick with you.
I kind of think that these are nicely ordered from fantastic to medium to good, story-wise. The biggest snoozers in the middle, and the first three stories are especially gorgeous.
Story one, “A Temporary Matter,” is the pinnacle of Interpreter of Maladies, to me. The couple’s sorrow and emptiness is heartbreaking, though not as heartbreaking as their hope, if that makes sense.
“When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine,” the second story, is about a child whose family has a visitor that treats her with kindness. Over time, she realizes that he has his own family far away and she could never serve as a replacement for his flesh and blood. It’s piquant and sweet.
The eponymous story, story three, is about a translator turned tour guide. For just a moment, he becomes wrapped up in a family’s life as he drives them around India. But in the midst of the trip, he sees to the heart of the family’s dysfunction.
These three stories especially are worth reading, though I also have a soft spot for “This Blessed House” and “The Third and Final Continent” as well.
FWIW (My Opinion)
Most stories contained in Interpreter of Maladies are sad ones, tinged with homesickness, showing characters reaching out to the place of their roots. There is lots of cooking and lots of market shopping in the books, and there are many ways that the characters feel caught between two cultures, even if they can’t articulate what they’re feeling. I thought it was a great read. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something short, especially if they have interest in Indian culture. It isn’t lighthearted, that’s for certain. But most good lit isn’t.
Moving on…lord, I’m trying to read The Stranger. It is going badly.
The Pulitzers came out recently, and I figured I had a bit of catching up to do (plus I missed one when I was skipping through the early 2000-aughts). So I snagged The Stranger, winner of 2016’s prize, thinking I’d take a detour for a more recent bearer of the gold seal. I don’t know if I can make it. It is utterly uninvolving.
Also, the husband and I are audiobook-reading Dan Simmon’s sci-fi opus Hyperion. That is going way better. I’m thrilled with the imagination of this author. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. But more on that later.