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Interpreter of Maladies

Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri Lahiri's first publication received almost too much success, but in reading this collection one can see what all the excitement is about. Lahiri examines the gulf for Indian/Bengali immigrants struggling to understand their new country (the U.S.), maintain a relationship with their place of birth or ancestral home, and find their place in life. What she is exploring is hardly new territory. In fact, she ends the collection with the narrator saying, "I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home and certainly I am not the first...As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination."Precisely in this "ordinariness" is where Lahiri manages to create a range of outstanding stories. There is simply not a weak link in the collection, although they refuse to follow any formulaic route. The title story actually takes place in India, but the immigrants in question are Indians who now live in the U.S. coming to the country as tourists. Lahiri sketches the characters quickly, but just when you think a flat, stereotypical character has emerged she shows a new depth to the person. Mr. Kapasi is driver taking them to their tourist destination, but he also makes money as an interpreter for a doctor (e.g. interpreter of maladies). It is this fact which awakens the mother/wife of the family he is taking along and she seeks to share her maladies in desperate search for a cure. Of course, her maladies are not physical, but symptomatic of the society in which she now resides.But Lahiri is not by any means anti-American society -- it exists in so much as her characters interact with it. While it may give them freedoms that Indian society has not offered, we see that in the end it is up to the people to decide how that society will influence them. Some retreat into traditional lifestyles in which they find comfort, but little interaction. Others take to the new society and their new life reflects these choices.In "This Blessed House" we see the conflicts with society in a humorous story surrounding the Indian owners of a house finding Christian artifacts in all parts of their house. The previous owners have left many small items behind which the wife finds fascinating and displays on their mantel, much to the surprise of her husband. But when a statue of Mary shows up when raking leaves, her insistence on displaying it goes against his concern of being thought Christian. A compromise is reached, but when they host a house warming party the husband realizes that his wife is also something that requires a new look as he begins to see her through the eyes of others.No story is more moving than "A Temporary Matter" in which a couple deals with the loss of a stillborn son. As they attempt to move on with their lives they find themselves incapable of being honest with one another until a temporary evening blackout gives them the opportunity to face the truth. It is a touching story which completely skirts sentimentality and instead shows the pain such a loss brings to a young couple.Overall the collection is outstanding for several reasons. Not only does Lahiri present the immigrant experience in a variety of interesting ways, she does so with respect to all the cultures involved. Her stories are about people and how life impacts them and how they respond, but she sees people as the driving force. In addition, the stories are incredibly well written without the clunky dialogue or plot shifts so common in first attempts.