Saturday, January 13, 2007

Interpreter of Maladies

My sister, the librarian, tries to read all the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels (this, in addition to her quest to see all the "Best Picture" Oscar winners). I've always thought that admirable, but never had any urge. Perhaps I feared the books would be too obtuse? Well, after reading Interpreter of Maladies, I could change my mind. This debut collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri won a bunch of prizes, including the 2000 Pulitzer for fiction.

After reading one per night, I enjoyed each and every story so much that I'm not sure I could name a favorite. The title story is set in the state of Orissa in India, where I spent much of my time when I was there three years ago. The couple travel to the sun temple in Konarak, which I was lucky to visit, and the story brought back memories.

But even if you have not been to India, Lahiri's stories can take you there--or to the minds of her usually Indian-American characters. My friend Jenny (who is starting an international book group that meets at a restaurant of the setting of the book--I would have loved to discuss this over a samosa!) said the first story, "A Temporary Matter," really struck her. It's about a young couple having marital trouble (and infertility, of course! I can't get away from it!)

If I had to pick my favorite, it would be "This Blessed House," about the Indian couple who disagree about what to do with all the tacky Christian images and tchotchkes they keep finding in their new house. It portrays the tension between two people just starting to live together, but also this young woman's (named Twinkle) openness to whatever happens. "Each day is like a treasure hunt!" she tells a friend. The ending is bittersweet (like most in the book) and you're not clear if this couple is going to make it. But the fact that the house seems to be "blessed" bodes well, I think.

After enjoying this so much, I think I'll put Lahiri's novel The Namesake on my list.


At 12:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yea!!! You're posting on the book blog again! One minor correction: While I'm sure the Pulitzer winners are great (and I'm guessing as a journalist you're partial to Pulitzer), it's the National Book Award winners I read. The last one I read was "The News from Paraguay" and it was really good. I'd tell you more about it, but it's too late and I need to get to sleep! Love, Amy

At 6:55 PM, Blogger Renee said...

Oh, you've GOT to read The Namesake. It was one of the best books I've read in the past couple of years. It was one of those reads that I just could not put down.

At 7:22 PM, Anonymous Laura said...

I'm blown away. I just found your blog courtesy of Apron Thrift Girl and had to pop over because of your desire for a Chicago Bungalow. My most favorite style...I lived there for many years. Then read your profile and saw that you're adopting (my husband and I almost did Vietnam, but decided to put it all on hold for a little longer)...then I saw the link to your book blog and almost passed out when I saw Interpreter of Maladies, which is the first book to ever help me appreciate the art of a short story. Twinkle is my favorite character. I love that story. I'll be back to see more snapshots of my own life!

At 8:09 PM, Blogger f. pea said...

Definitely read the Pulitzer winners - and the Pulitzer nominees! I think they're the best fiction going. Now those National Book Award winners... that's where we get a bit obtuse. And depressing. I tend to stay away from them. They're like the smart friends you can't stand to have over for dinner because they get very drunk and tell these horribly depressing stories about their families. Then you find out later they made it all up.

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