Saturday, November 1, 2014

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies




It would only be appropriate to say that I was little scared to pick up this book after reading Old Man and his God by Sudha Murthy and Nine on Nine by Nandita C Puri. Sudha Murthy's book lacked substance and Nandita Puri's stories revolved, focused and acutely centered on societal atrocities inflicted on women. Definitely, Jhumpa Lahiri is a much more accomplished and acclaimed writer and this book being a Pulitzer Prize winner could not be a debacle. Also, Interpreter of Maladies figured a noticeable number of times in many of my friends' Facebook pages in top ten books challenge section. I picked up this book from Flipkart website at a reasonable discount and here goes my review of the book. 

Some quick facts about the book - it is a collection of 9 short stories - A Temporary Matter, When Mr.Pirzada came to Dine, Interpreter of Maladies, A Real Durwan, Sexy, Mrs.Sen's, This Blessed House, The Treatment of Bibi Haldar, The Third and Final Continent and the book runs to a total of 200 pages. 

*********************

For me, A Temporary Matter, When Mr.Pirzada came to Dine and The Third and Final Continent were outstanding. 

The first story in the collection - A Temporary Matter deals with the emotional crisis a young Indian American couple face when their first child is born dead. The couple's character sketch, before and after the catastrophe, expertise they attain over time in avoiding each other and then how things change over a period of just five days are all well illustrated. There are no loud reprimands, no accusations hurled at one another, a lull in the couple's routine; a polite distance they upkeep conveys an undoable damage in their relation. The end is terrific and highly melancholic, easily sufficient to make the story a clear title holder in the collection. I wonder how the author who penned down such a  fine story overlooked the simple fact of naming her book after it and instead chose the story - Interpreter of Maladies, not even half as good as this one. 

The second story - When Mr.Pirzada came to Dine is set in 1971 against the backdrop of war for independent Bangladesh. Lilia, a young girl in Boston and her family play host to Mr. Pirzada who visits them every evening, watches the edition of national news with her family over dinner in order to gather information about his family residing in Dacca, then a part of East Pakistan. In the story, Lilia's father initially indicates that Mr.Pirzada is a Pakistani Muslim and their family are Hindus from India and are actually different but Lilia observes the overt similarities like speaking same language, eating pickled mangoes along with meals and eating hands than an indicated difference. Initially unflustered by Mr.Pirzada's visits, the story beautifully depicts how and when Lilia actually pays importance to her visitor.

The Third and Final Continent appears last in the collection and deals with the journey of a man from India (Calcutta) to London and then to Boston. Simple and straight forward in import and content, the story impressively details hardships a man faces while settling in a land far away from home land and strong emotional relations he develops with a handful. Unlike other stories in the collection that have bitter-sweet endings, this story ends on a nostalgic and clearly optimistic note.

This Blessed House and A Real Durwan are mere fillers meant to add few pages to the book. Sexy cannot be dismissed as an insignificant component in the collection. The Interpreter of Maladies in which Mr.Kapasi, a tourist guide and a translator for a doctor in his neighborhood is bowled over by an astonishing revelation of one of his clients, Mrs.Sen does not appeal much either. Mrs.Sen's and The Treatment of Bibi Haldar definitely evoke sympathy in reader for the protagonists.

The back cover of my paperback edition states - Jhumpa Lahiri is the kind of writer who makes you want to grab the next person you see and say "Read this!" She's a dazzling story teller with a distinctive voice, an eye for nuance, an ear for irony. She is one of the finest short story writers I've read." - Amy Tan. 

I do agree with the last two sentences from the claim above. However, I would not urge the next person I see to grab this book and read it. Good book, glad I read it, that is all.