This book is a collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. I think this is another book from the days I was addicted to paperbackswap.com (not that those days have completely dissipated). I am well aware that the word ‘maladies’ is in the title, therefor I should have not been surprised at the level of sadness this book can bring.
The Overview: Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant. She is an important and powerful new voice.
Lahiri’s writing is incredibly strong, so much that you find yourself absorbed in the heartache of these stories. You want to weep for the couple who lost their stillborn child, you want to rip the hair out of the snotty American born Indians visiting their parents’ homeland. You want to pay for Mrs. Sen to have driving lessons by a DRIVING INSTRUCTOR. The book is filled with rich emotions, most of them depressing.
What I truly loved about the book was being submersed into the culture of these characters. I loved reading about the foods they were eating and their traditions and how strange Americans must seem at times. I learned about arranged marriages and the responsibilities of the oldest son when the parents die. The details of their garments and foods left me wanting to dress up in a sari and make a stew with fish and green bananas. I want to put vermilion in the part of my hair.
I read a review that mentioned how short stories were much like speed dating. You have very little time for the characters to introduce themselves. In the little time you get acquainted, the hope is that they will be memorable enough that you will remember them long after their twenty pages are up. My favorite character in this book was probably Twinkle. I found pieces of me in her. Her obsession with the religious knickknacks in her new home reminded me of my cocktail religion that I practice. How she didn’t measure out the ingredients for a mystery stew she made is much like some of my kitchen adventures. The way she embraced some very simple pleasures touched a trait in me I love.
Do I recommend this book? Yes. I have warned you to be prepared for the worst, but keep yourself open to the magic of these characters and their lives. Embrace the one night stands you will experience with them.
Next on You Bought It, You Read It; Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve