Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies

I've never reviewed a short story collection before, and quite frankly, I'm not sure how. Do I review individual stories or the collection as a whole? Who knows. But however I end up reviewing it--I still haven't a clue--it doesn't change the fact that Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri is a gorgeous literary gem.

I read one of her stories, "Sexy," in my "Women in Literature and Film" class in college. I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed it, even after spending two weeks dissecting it in class (I, of course, have blocked out all the lectures though and so can't share what we discussed). So, I went straight out and bought a copy of her first short story collection, with its Pulitzer Prize Winning sticker on the front, and proceeded to let it gather dust on my shelf.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to it--short stories are fantastic! They're humble and bite-sized, just right for someone on the go and who is constantly reading some lengthier piece, whether for work or for pleasure, and needs something more digestible. Plus, I write short stories. I like short stories. Why do I not read them more? I think I will start making them a staple in my literary life.

Especially after reading Interpreter of Maladies. Lahiri's language in this collection is lyrical, but not too much so; it still feels casual somehow, realistic, despite its brilliance. Her characters are interesting and unique, with quirks and fears and flaws. I can always empathize with them, even when they are my polar opposite. Lahiri pulls out the very basic human elements in her characters to connect us all, through time and culture.

The culture of her stories is another thing I love about her writing. Always the multi-culturalist, she shares a variety of viewpoints with her readers, focusing mainly on American and Indian cultures. Richly drawn and deeply described, she introduced me again and again to new ideas and traditions. I do, however, wish she'd branch out further to explore some different cultures, as the constant presence of Indian, American, and Indian-American cultures can sometimes feel a little stale when reading more than one story at a time.

My favorite thing about Lahiri's work, though, is the bittersweet tone her stories have. They never quite end happily but never end in disaster either. There's always something uplifting though in the emotional destruction she often represents. That's my favorite kind of story. It's the kind I like to write too because it's just, well, real.

Last Word: A beautiful and bittersweet collection of stories, with characters and themes that span the globe. Read them all, though my personal favorite is the first story in the collection, "A Temporary Matter."

1 comment:

  1. Loved loved that collection! Actually sharing it with my mom for a read this weeekend. I thought it was excellent.