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Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
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Interpreter of Maladies (1999)

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9,780221450 (4.08)1 / 289
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English (210)  Catalan (4)  Spanish (2)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (219)
Showing 1-5 of 210 (next | show all)
The writing in this collection of short stories is brilliant, primarily because of its subtlety and deep insight into human character. In one or two sentences, Lahiri manages to tell us _everything_ about that person. Each story is excellent.
The title story “Interpreter of Maladies” is probably my favorite. We are introduced to the Das family, two affluent Indian Americans and their children, on vacation in India. Their day tour is guided by a local, Mr. Kapasi. Through the Dases, Kapasi comes to understand that his ability to interpret common folks’ maladies to the medical doctor he works for during the week is a skill that Kapasi has not sufficiently valued. Mrs. Das makes one throw-away comment about her husband that is devastatingly and cruelly dismissive. Then she reveals a secret to Kapasi, and asks for an interpretation of her malady. Kapasa takes his interpretive abilities seriously. He suggests to her that she’s guilty of bad behavior. She’s not suffering, as she likes to think, from some western over-psychologized concept of “emotional pain.” It’s far simpler than that. She’s behaved immorally. But she is self-absorbed and narcissistic. As a consequence, she is quite unwilling to accept the true nature of her malady, and condescendingly dismisses Kapasi.
“Sexy” is another favorite. In this one, a young woman who is having an affair with a married man finds herself at the same time peripheral to another couple’s coming apart because of the husband’s affair. She ends up spending some time with this couple’s child. By interacting with the child, she comes to realize the moral problem of what she’s doing in her own affair. I’ve always been mystified by those persons who have affairs with married or partnered persons and who seem clueless and irresponsible about the results of their behavior. Lahiri shows us what happens when that person wakes up and begins to take responsibility.

Some stories are tragedies. There’s the thrown-away, very elderly woman in “A Real Durwan,” or “Mrs. Sen” who is constitutionally incapable of adapting to American culture. Her self concept is so bound up with her extended family that she cannot exist without them. There are also those sweet and touching stories like “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dinner” and “The Third and Final Continent.”
Two very sad stories are about couples who are coming apart, or who are so mismatched that surely they will eventually come apart. In “A Temporary Affair” we come to know a couple that has drifted apart after their baby was still-born. Lahiri shows us the nature of casual human cruelty when the husband tells his wife for the first time that he held the dead baby briefly, something she did not get to do, and did not know that he had done. Lahiri writes, “…he promised himself that day that he would never tell Shoba, because he still loved her then...” But now he doesn’t love her anymore, and so he allows himself to casually devastate her.
In “This Blessed House” we meet two very different people who are headed for disaster. She’s a bohemian lover of poetry, art, and foreign films. He does everything by the book, a picture of a straight-laced and uptight man devoted to his career. He likes it that his friends think his wife is “wow” but he himself finds her “wowness” to be profoundly annoying. She develops a fascination for Christian knick-knacks which offends his Hindu self. Clearly she has latched onto the Christian tchotchkes as a barrier to hold off his demands for her to change and meet his standards. She’s desperately trying to be true to her bohemian self, and all she does is give him a massive headache. No doubt they will hurt each other immeasurably before they give up on what should never have happened – their marriage.
I look forward to reading more of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work. ( )
  C.J.Shane | Feb 25, 2019 |
The author writes very well. The characters come to life and the settings are beautifully described. Most of these stories would make a good first chapter in a novel, assuming that something happened in the rest of that book. Nothing much happens in these stories, so when one ends I wonder why I bothered to read it. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Feb 15, 2019 |
This is a collection of short stories. Each story is about an Indian family that has to balance traditions with the modern world. There is a story of a couple who struggles in the wake of a stillborn child. Another about a woman who is having an affair with a married man. An interpreter who works for a doctor but also drives tourist around India. Another about a young woman with seizures that no one can find a husband for (yet this is all she wants). A family who watches the war in India and Pakistan on TV - worrying about their families still in those countries. And many more.



This was a pretty good book. Most of the stories are short and entertaining. They are well written, even though some of the stories end abruptly and go no where. I didn't like it as well as her other books, but I am glad I read it. It only took a few hours to read.



I would recommend it. If you like her other books, you may enjoy this one. ( )
  JenMat | Jan 10, 2019 |
pretty damn great ( )
1 vote areviewer | Dec 30, 2018 |
These short stories are mainly set in America, but sometimes in India, and feature mostly Indian-Americans, but sometimes Indians. I found them moving and gentle, although fairly sad. They made me want to try mustard oil! ( )
  pgchuis | Dec 28, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 210 (next | show all)
In this accomplished collection of stories, Jhumpa Lahiri traces the lives of people on two continents -- North America and India -- and in doing so announces herself as a wonderfully distinctive new voice. Indeed, Ms. Lahiri's prose is so eloquent and assured that the reader easily forgets that ''Interpreter of Maladies'' is a young writer's first book.
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jhumpa Lahiriprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cooley, StevenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dahlström, EvaForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Emeis, MarijkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Overholtzer, RobertDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sjöstrand, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
For my parents and for my sister
First words
The notice informed them that it was a temporary matter: for five days their electricity would be cut off for one hour, beginning at eight P.M.
Quotations
While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and I am certainly not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.
As stunned as I was, I knew what I had to say. With no hesitation at all, I cried out, "Splendid!"
In fact, the only thing that appeared three-dimensional about Boori Ma was her voice: brittle with sorrows, as tart as curds, and shrill enough to grate meat from a coconut.
He wondered if Mr. and Mrs. Das were a bad match, just as he and his wife were. Perhapts they, too, had little in common apart from three children and a decade of their lives. The signs he recognized from his own marriage were there--the bickering, the indifference, the protracted silences.
In its own way this correspondence would fulfill his dream, of serving as an interpreter between nations.
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Book description
CONTENTS:
A Temporary Matter -- When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine -- Interpreter of Maladies -- A Real Durwan -- Sexy -- This Blessed House -- The Treatment of Bibi Haldar -- The Third and Final Continent
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 039592720X, Paperback)

Mr. Kapasi, the protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri's title story, would certainly have his work cut out for him if he were forced to interpret the maladies of all the characters in this eloquent debut collection. Take, for example, Shoba and Shukumar, the young couple in "A Temporary Matter" whose marriage is crumbling in the wake of a stillborn child. Or Miranda in "Sexy," who is involved in a hopeless affair with a married man. But Mr. Kapasi has problems enough of his own; in addition to his regular job working as an interpreter for a doctor who does not speak his patients' language, he also drives tourists to local sites of interest. His fare on this particular day is Mr. and Mrs. Das--first-generation Americans of Indian descent--and their children. During the course of the afternoon, Mr. Kapasi becomes enamored of Mrs. Das and then becomes her unwilling confidant when she reads too much into his profession. "I told you because of your talents," she informs him after divulging a startling secret.
I'm tired of feeling so terrible all the time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, I've been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better; say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.
Of course, Mr. Kapasi has no cure for what ails Mrs. Das--or himself. Lahiri's subtle, bittersweet ending is characteristic of the collection as a whole. Some of these nine tales are set in India, others in the United States, and most concern characters of Indian heritage. Yet the situations Lahiri's people face, from unhappy marriages to civil war, transcend ethnicity. As the narrator of the last story, "The Third and Final Continent," comments: "There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept." In that single line Jhumpa Lahiri sums up a universal experience, one that applies to all who have grown up, left home, fallen in or out of love, and, above all, experienced what it means to be a foreigner, even within one's own family. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:53 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Stories about Indians in India and America. The story, A Temporary Matter, is on mixed marriage, Mrs. Sen's is on the adaptation of an immigrant to the U.S., and in the title story an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors.… (more)

» see all 6 descriptions

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