On a cold January 5, 2017 Thursday evening, Book Club members escaped the bitter cold to Sandy’s home warmed by the fireplace and filled with aromas of apple pie-inspired treats and Indian fare to discuss Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Interpreter of the Maladies,” a delightful collection of short stories:
“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 one, for example, 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.”(from BN site from when the collection of short stories was first published).
We had delicious conversation about each story, examining Lahiri’s rich descriptions of food and her ability to craft such interesting characters. In one of the stories, “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine,” we examined how the ten year old narrator’s eyes in 1971 are opened to horrors of the world through the story of her family’s dinner guest in her New England home, a visiting professor from East Pakistan forced to watch on their television set the horror of Partition in which his home country was dismantled, wondering silently if his wife and daughters were safe. The ten year old Miranda becomes a short term substitute daughter for Mr. Pirzada until he returns home and sends a photo of his reunion with his family, leaving Miranda with a sense of relief for his family as well as fond memories, a connection to another part of the world, and sense of dignity for people who are different. The story, as do the other stories, captures loneliness, isolation, the fragile state of love, and values, and she uses simple, everyday objects to remind us about connections with faith, other people, and ourselves.
We also enjoyed discussing “This Blessed House” for its vivid characters and understated narrative which crafted almost absurd scenes: Sanjeev appears conflicted with his seemingly rushed, arranged marriage to the very eccentric but delightful and energetic Twinkle, and after finding hidden Christian artifacts in their new home, they argue about them: Sanjeev thinks they are embarrassing and should immediately be disposed of while Twinkle finds them captivating and displays them throughout the house. They host a party for Sanjeev’s co-workers, and at one point, all Sanjeev’s co-workers have followed Twinkle into the attic in search of Biblical artifacts while Sanjeev is by himself downstairs listening to them rummage through his attic. Well, the next thing he knows, he is somehow carting a huge Jesus bust from the attic and heading to the fireplace mantel to display it, accepting his fate about his new young wife and her decorating. The story captivated us with its subtle humor, delicious imagery, and an ambiguous ending
Additionally, Sanjeev’s story reminded some of us of the things we found in our homes when we first moved in, and several shared stories about those little treasures and what they did with them. So interesting!
While some of Lahiri’s characters made us feel sad, we also agreed that their experiences taught us about the importance of being kind to others and recognizing the importance of human connection.
The book earned 2’s and 2.5’s on a scale of 1-5 with one being the best. While we enjoyed the stories very much, we found the stories a bit too short: we wanted more of each character!