Interpreter of Maladies
The only thing better than winning the Pulitzer is winning it for your debut. Jhumpa Lahiri earned that distinction in 2000 with her short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, which I have just gotten around to reading.
In the title story, a doctor’s interpreter romanticizes a tourist family—until he gets to know them. In “A Temporary Matter,” a grad student’s marriage dissolves in the wake of a miscarriage. In “Sexy,” a mistress ends an affair after babysitting a child hurt by his father’s adultery. In “This Blessed House,” a Hindu couple buys a house full of Christian paraphernalia. In “Mrs. Sen’s,” a bored wife’s love of seafood challenges her fear of driving on the “wrong” side of the road. In “The Third and Final Continent,” a young engineer develops a tender attachment to his senile landlady.
Unlike some story collections, this one is consistently written. Each vignette has equal heft and feels fully explored, capturing some fear or attitude particular to Indian immigrants while at the same time drawing out the commonalities of human culture. And as a rare reader’s pleasure, most of the characters are likable, despite (because of?) their mistakes and insecurities.
Ms. Lahiri also wrote a novel called The Namesake (which I have not read), now a film starring Kal Penn.