Interpreter of Maladies

by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999)


They don’t quite do it for me, these quiet, mundane episodes of Indian-Americans in varying stages of missing their cultural homeland. Which is not to say I think they’re bad, or that Ms. Lahiri is untalented. . . just that it’s not my cup of milky Darjeeling.

I’m a fan of the straightforward prose, and Lahiri displays a strong grasp of imagery and details. You never doubt the authenticity of her stories (except for “Mrs. Sen’s,” which features the most selfless, patient and understanding 7 year-old who ever lived).

But they tend to run together, these snippets of immigrants struggling within this alien culture, sometimes struggling because of the culture itself but just as often due to strained personal relationships. Also taxing is the relentless theme of sadness, loneliness and quiet despair.

My favorite story is the first one, “A Temporary Matter,” a heartbreaking requiem for a marriage. Other good ones are “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine,” “This Blessed House,” and “The Third and Final Continent.” I was surprised that the titular story left me coldest. It honestly seemed almost amateurish.

In sum, I can appreciate the quality of craftsmanship but have little interest in experiencing more of it. I think I need more flashing lights than Lahiri is offering.

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