From the TBR Shelf #10: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri of Maladies (1999) by Jhumpa Lahiri

This lovely short-story collection sat on my TBR shelf for YEARS, mixed in with Plato and Anthony Trollope and Theodore Dreiser and...I could go on...

Then what, I hear you ask, made me finally pluck Interpreter off that shelf and read it? I must admit- it was the rave reviews that so many people gave The Lowland. I thought, "wait! I have something Jhumpa Lahiri wrote somewhere around here!" and dutifully rummaged 'round the TBR shelf for the book.

And what timing! My latest "Rachel's Random Recommendations" entries were on two other works about the immigrant experience in America, and Lahiri's stories about Indian men and women adapting to a foreign culture have much in common with the stories of Jewish-American and Chinese-American experiences. In Lahiri's stories, the men and women try to balance their pasts with their presents and futures: women wearing saris, men bringing over wives from India (arranged marriages), people cooking in and cleaning their American apartments with the ingredients and tools from their former homes.

Each story is like a snapshot, or a quick glimpse through a window into another life. The title story is the most lyrical, exploring the multiple meanings of "interpretation" and "translation" in the life of a tour-guide in India. Another of my favorites, "This Blessed House," is more humorous but just as poignant, as Hindu newlyweds find Christian objects hidden around the house they just moved into and try to figure out what to do with them (disagreement and hilarity ensues).

Interpreter runs the gamut of emotions and explores the myriad aspects of what it means to be Indian and Indian-American. I say no wonder it won the Pulitzer.

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