The gulfs in marriage and home: Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri

I am so grateful to a couple of blogger friends who recently urged me to move Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri up on my reading list. This book had been sitting on my shelves unread for maybe three years.

Interpreter of Maladies is Lahiri’s first published work, a collection of short stories that also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000.

The stories take place in both America and India although we often get the sense that we’re in both: the characters are making a new life in America or traveling back to India to a country that’s unfamiliar or consoling a friend who’s been separated from his family.

The stories are also about marriage, about secrets and lost connections. The opening story is a powerful one about the gulf that takes place in one marriage after the death of the couple’s first baby. Other characters struggle with infidelity, loneliness, hunger to be noticed, and bewilderment at the behavior and thinking of their partners.

And there are stories of women living on the margins of society in India – the ill, the displaced. They, too, long for connection and belonging.

I’m trying hard here not to resort to cliches or overly dramatic expressions to describe how I felt reading these stories, but the only thing I can say is that I was amazed at how much punch each of these short stories could pack. Lahiri captures the immigrant’s and the outsider’s story with such nuance and poignancy – the optimism, the hope, the alienation, the longing, the loneliness…and all of this is rolled together with the parallel emotions faced in each of the characters’ marriages or relationship with the community. These are stories for anyone – Indian or not, immigrant or not – who’s ever felt a part of themselves empty, who’s ever wanted to be full and yet not known how to feel whole.

31 thoughts on “The gulfs in marriage and home: Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri

  1. I read “Unaccustomed Earth” and loved it but have yet to read this one. It’s time I get on it, it would seem. 🙂 By the way, have you read “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout? I liked that one too. (Also short stories.)

    • I have Unaccustomed Earth too (another one that’s been sitting on my shelf) and will look forward to that. I think I also have Olive Kitteridge…unless I had given it away (my poor memory)…for some reason I always thought it was a novel! I will hunt this one down…I hope it is still sitting on my shelves! Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

  2. I’ve wanted to read Jhumpa Lahiri ever since seeing the movie “The Namesake” on a plane years ago. Thank you for the reminder. I’m also keen to read more short fiction in 2014, so this sounds like a great place to start.

  3. Oh, this sounds fantastic! I read The Namesake a few years ago and The Lowland is on my to-read list. Jhumpa Lahiri is such a gifted writer and storyteller and as you noted, can touch many with her stories no matter what a person’s ethnicity or country of residence. I am now adding Interpreter of Maladies to my list.
    Have a great day, Cecilia!
    Ngan

    • Thanks, Ngan! I read The Lowland and really enjoyed it, but I think I love this short story collection the best out of the 3 works that I have read by Lahiri (the other one being The Namesake). I’m glad you are adding it to your list and I hope you will love it too!

  4. Sounds good. I particularly like the variety of the stories. The cusp of two cultures can be a nuanced place. I tend to oversimplify it, and mine is only one story, one thread. To treat this place as a whole theme is interesting.

    • She deals with this theme very well, so that it’s not just about culture but about our most intimate relationships too, and how the two feed off one another. Very quiet and even simple stories and yet I feel the emotional wallop!

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