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Interpreter of Maladies is an authentic portrayal of life abroad, it’s difficulties, the norms required to adjust.
Jhumpa Lahiri is an Indo-American author who writes novels, short stories and essays in English and Italian. She is a diasporic writer who understands Indian sensibilities and makes her readers live them through her writings. She won the Pulitzer prize and PEN/ Hemingway Award for Fiction for Interpreter of Maladies in the year 2000.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies is an anthology of short stories that connects borders and brings light to Indian-American lives. She brings forth a myriad of hybrid experiences of Indians who are torn from their culture, trying to make way in a foreign distant land.
Her stories have an element of nostalgia towards the Indian culture, its eccentricities, it’s commonalities and specialties. She plays with one’s senses, be it stirring the sense of smell and taste in her readers by mentioning varieties of fish curries or evoking emotions through emotionally intelligent characters.
Interpreter of Maladies is an authentic portrayal of life abroad, it’s difficulties, the norms required to adjust. She brings to you a chest full of innate habits one has to leave behind to fit in. And a drawer full of practices one keeps to not forget where they belong.
In the aforementioned book, words are strung together by emotions. Reader doesn’t need a moment after reading a line, the language, intent and emotion registers instantly. The stories begin in America but they feel like small anecdotes from a little girl’s diary. The language seems highly personal, a small autobiographical element creeps up while reading.
Lahiri plays with contrast very well in the book, be it the contrast between the American life and Indian life, or the contrast between past and present. One example being the story A Temporary Matter. It’s a story of lost love between a married couple due to an unforeseen calamity i.e. losing a child.
The couple drift apart and Lahiri shows a contrast between their previous life and present life, between the young couple and neighbouring old couple. A contrast between coldness, distance and warmth and closeness. In the book, Lahiri portrays symbolism quite brilliantly.
The story that stands out is titled, Interpreter of Maladies. It’s a story of a couple whose relationship has gone sour due to burden of time and an indifference has crept between them. Lahiri says in a scene when the couple goes to watch the sun temple, ‘It was no longer possible to enter the temple, for it had been filled with rubble years ago…’. These lines and the temple are symbolic of the couple’s relationship.
Her language changes from simple, be it the narrative of a small girl in the story of Mr Peerzada or rhythmic in the story of The Treatment of Bibi Haldar.
In the book, the portrayal of Indian women, their experiences in America is at the focus point. The women don’t break out of conventional roles, but the intricate personal struggle they go through are commendably described.
There’s enough space given to women characters. It is at times a book of misfortunes of women characters, be it the story of Bibi Haldar or the story of Bori Maa. Their personalized struggles evokes empathy, pity but the center of attention is on their story nevertheless.
The stories change location from America to Bengal and she does so effortlessly, showcasing the diversity and eloquence of the author. There are subtle descriptions to minute details of characters and their mannerisms. The book is a narrative of Indians in exile, a book that is worth reading and hard to miss.
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