Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

A collection of short stories set mostly among Indian immigrants in the US.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake was one of my favorite reads of last year, so I decided I needed to check out her much-buzzed about collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. It will surprise no one who has read these tales that I found them both simple and spectacular.

I am not usually a fan of short stories, though now that I am short on time for reading I’m finding them to be the perfect reading experience. In the past, I have gotten frustrated with short stories because they are over just too quickly, and I can’t read more than two from the same collection at a sitting without feeling like they’re starting to run together. Short stories are best appreciated on their own, so they’re just not suited for long reading sessions. They are, however, ideal for subway trips while wearing a baby who’s not sure she wants to take a nap. A 45-minute commute yields maybe 15 minutes of reading time. And that’s the perfect span for appreciating a good short story.

My other usual beef with short stories is that most of them seem to be trying too hard. It’s rare–outside of genre fiction–for a story to capture my attention based on concept alone. I just don’t want to read a strictly realist short story, no matter how acute the insights. Ho hum, is what I say. I most admire those stories that take me somewhere I’ve never been before. That’s why I’ve devoured Shirley Jackson’s stories. Most of them are set in the “real” world, but things are always just a little bit tweaked, with humor or with gothic weirdness or with just plain horror.

Lahiri certainly delivers a larger-than-life experience in each story. She’s got unique characters who are spellbinding without falling into quirky cliche, and she gives each story a plot with a strong enough motor to keep me turning the pages. She just has a way of making me curious about her situations, and when the stories are over I’m sad to say goodbye to the people to whom she’s introduced me.

My favorite story is the last, “The Third and Final Continent.” It’s an achingly sweet musing on the nature of love and longevity. The prose of the ending is so plain and direct that it’s like opening the door to a familiar surprise. The quiet confidence of her writing is alluring and winsome, and her command of point-of-view conjured up my beloved Kazuo Ishiguro.

7 thoughts on “Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri”

  1. I read this collection last spring and loved it, too. Hard to pick a favorite story, but “The Third and Final Continent” is certainly a contender, along with “A Temporary Matter” and “Mrs. Sen’s.” Lovely specimens of the genre!

    I still have The Namesake on my TBR list.

  2. I really admired Lahiri’s stories as well. Having followed your recommendation on Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I was crazy about, you now have made me curious about her stories.

  3. I need to read this! I’m really enjoying short stories lately, and I’ve especially enjoyed a Canadian collection, by Sarah Klassen, called “A Feast of Longing”. Lahiri is an author I’ve always had on my tbr list.

  4. I’m forgetting which story was named what now, but I loved, loved, loved the one about the elderly lady who thought the astronauts reaching the moon was “splendid.” The scene where the husband takes his wife back to meet her for the first time, and they share a moment of understanding, is just wonderful. I also really liked the one told from the child’s perspective, about the friend who came by the family all the time, and the first attempt at trick-or-treating. That was another really beautiful tale.

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