[SS]Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri (1)

January 23, 2010 § 29 Comments

Short Saturday: I join Mee on her journey in search of 5-star quality short stories. It’s all about the journey, she says, not the destination.

So this being a Saturday, I thought I’d post about some of the short stories in Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection, Interpreter of Maladies.

The first in this collection is A Temporary Matter. Of the 5 (the collection has 9) I’ve read so far, this is probably the only one that I don’t know what to write about. It’s a story about the strained relationship between a married couple. During the few days when their electricity supply was being scheduled for a cut-off, they took advantage of sitting in the dark, and each told the other a secret. The things they disclosed were not earth-shattering stuff, but it did help mend what was left of a very broken relationship. The ending came as somewhat of a surprise, but in a way, it felt like that was for the best.

(Okay, I just said I had nothing to write about, and wrote plenty enough. Moral of the story is, don’t believe me when I say I have nothing to say.)

Rating: 3.5


When Mr Pirzada Came To Dine is a story narrated by a young Indian girl. Mr Pirzada is a regular guest at her home, where he comes to have dinner and watch the news. What I found most interesting about this story was the mention of the 1947 Partition, during which India was split. Frankly, I have not read enough, if at all, about this event to comment, but as far as I know, it happened during the time when religious clash was at its peak. (Please tell me if I’m wrong. And point me to books to read to know more..)

There is a quote in here that I was also particularly drawn to. It’s a conversation between our narrator, Lilia (a 10-year-old) and her teacher, when she was looking at a book about Pakistan.

“Is this book a part of your report, Lilia?”

“No, Mrs. Kenyon.”

“Then I see no reason to consult it,” she said, replacing it in the slim gap on the shelf. “Do you?”

To me, it showed discrimination. But more importantly, it showed me the reason why so many of us don’t know much beyond what is taught at school. This is a story rich with undertones.

Rating: 4


The Interpreter of Maladies starts with a tour guide, Mr Kapasi, as he brings the Das family to their intended destination. Along the way, the tourists find out that Mr Kapasi has another job besides being a tour guide; he also works as an interpreter at a doctor’s office. Mr Kapasi listens to the patients as they tell him what ails them, and he interprets what he hears to the doctor, who doesn’t understand the language. In short, as Mrs Das puts it, Mr Kapasi is an interpreter of maladies.

As the jorney continues, Mr Kapasi becomes more and more fond of Mrs Das, telling her stories and anecdotes of his job at the doctor’s office. Later on, Mrs Das would also turn to Mr Kapasi, in his capacity as someone familiar with maladies, to help her solve a problem.

I thought this was a beautiful story. As a story about tourists visiting a place, the descriptions were wonderfully done, but not so extravagant as to take attention away from the main flow of the story. For the most part, it was Mr Kapasi’s feelings that were given more expression, and that was something I very much appreciated.

Rating: 4.5


A Real Durwan was a funny little story. Boori Ma is initially a homeless person. In exchange for the residents of an apartment building allowing her to put up on their grounds, she takes it upon herself to sweep the stairwell, and after a while, she became by default the durwan (live-in doorkeeper) of the apartment block.

When one of the residents, a married couple, suddenly find themselves in better fortune, they decide to purchase two basins, one for their own apartment unit, and one for the rest of them, which they installed in the stairwell. They then leave for a holiday, which only spells the beginning of trouble for both Boori Ma, and the other residents, who become quite jealous.

This wasn’t a particularly enjoyable story, but it was definitely one that stuck with me for a while. Because of material gain (the basin in the stairwell), the relationship between families and individuals living in the apartment building became sour. Somehow I think that’s a very strong reflection of human nature.

Rating: 3.5


Sexy is the 5th story in this collection. The gist of the story is that Miranda is having a relationship with a married man, Dev. As a side story, Miranda’s friend, Laxmi, has a cousin whose husband ran away to be with a woman he had met on an aeroplane.

In this affair, all the usual things happen. When Dev’s wife wasn’t around, he took Miranda for dinners and outings, and on one occasion, told Miranda that she was ‘sexy’. When Dev’s wife returned, it was the occasional visit to Miranda’s home where they would have sex.

The one part of the story in which everything came together for me was when Laxmi’s cousin’s son told Miranda that she was sexy.

“That word. ‘Sexy.’ What does it mean?”

He looked down, suddenly shy. “I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a secret.” He pressed his lips together, so hard that a bit of them went white.

And after a little persuasion,

He cupped his hands around his moth, and then he whispered, “It means loving someone you don’t know.”

A very well-written story. Probably the one I enjoyed the most so far.

Rating: 4.5


I’ll be posting about the rest of the short stories in this collection next week.

§ 29 Responses to [SS]Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri (1)

  • Sasha says:

    I actually loved “A Temporary Matter” the best, haha. The rest of the stories in this collection, IMO, was meh, hahaha.

    I love short stories–I’m already doing a Story Saturday of sorts, but not just during Saturdays, but when, well, er, I come across a story I have to share, haha. Short Story Spotlight, for want of a better title.

    • Michelle says:

      I’ve read in other places that A Temporary Matter rates quite high. But the world would be a boring place if we all loved the same things. =)

      I’m still learning to love them, to be honest. Could also explain why the ones I like aren’t the ones you liked. I do read your Short Story Spotlights, but because I don’t read short stories that often, I rarely have anything to say. hehe..

      • Sasha says:

        You know how you’re aware that this writer is good, but she doesn’t, well, she doesn’t touch your heart (haha)? No affective dimension to the piece for you? That’s what I felt with Lahiri’s short stories–except for A Temporary Matter. :]

        Still, good luck with the rest. :p

  • I haven’t read this one yet, but I do have The Namesake on my bookshelf at the moment, and it’s a book I’m looking forward to.

    Love how you’ve done the review, and seems like you found a fair few good short stories. Thing is, I’m not a big fan of short stories… something I’ve never gotten into. Based on your review, though, I’m tempted to try a couple.

    • Michelle says:

      I think it’s worth trying them out. Some short stories have a way of coming at you full force.

      I’ve read The Namesake, posted my thoughts on them last year. It was quite a good read, so I hope you enjoy it when you do get around to it.

  • kiss a cloud says:

    I really would like to read Lahiri’s two collections. I loved The Namesake, but don’t know what to expect of her shorts. They’ve been praised, but a number of bloggers whose tastes I trust say that her stories are all the same; that if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. I still want to see for myself though. Let us know how you view the collection overall afterwards. šŸ™‚

    • Michelle says:

      I’ve heard the same comment, that her short stories are very similar. I’ll finish the rest of the collection, and maybe write a paragraph on what I thought of the book in general.

  • mee says:

    I read Interpreter of Maladies 2 years ago. I thought it was just okay, but after that I learned not to read collection of shorts like a book. Read them intermittently. I only remember bits of the stories now, but A Temporary Matter seems to stick the most. I still remember most of it and how it ends. (I read my own review and saw that I liked Sexy, but I can’t remember much about the story now!)

    • Michelle says:

      Haha. Intermittently is correct. I try to only read one short story a day.

      To be honest, I can understand how they can be quite forgettable. There’s nothing really striking in her stories so far. They’re good when you’re reading them, but they don’t stand out that much.

  • mee says:

    By the way, I’m glad you’re joining my Short Stories quest! Exactly the push I need to read and review them šŸ™‚

  • Susan says:

    Michelle, I’m in the middle of reading these stories, so I didn’t read your entire post. But I will return afterward. šŸ™‚

    Enjoy your weekend.

  • Nymeth says:

    “A Temporary Matter” was actually my favourite. I see we have opposite opinions today, ha šŸ˜›

  • Vishy says:

    Interesting review! If you would like to read novels which are set during the partition of India you can try ‘Azadi’ by Chaman Nahal (I don’t know whether it is in print) or ‘Train to Pakistan’ by Khushwant Singh (this is in print).

  • Mel u says:

    It takes a lot to motivate me to buy a collection of short stories-your excellent review has pushed me in that direction

  • I remember Interpreter of Maladies (the short story, I never read the whole collection)! lol your review reminds me that I should really get around to reading more of Jhumpa Lahiri.

    And I love the idea of Short Saturdays! *considers participating as well*

  • Mark David says:

    I REALLY want this book!!! Should I buy it tomorrow? I was already itching to pick it up earlier this week šŸ˜¦

  • JoV says:

    How on earth is that you managed to read all 3 of my fav and TBR books in one row!!??!! Read this in 2008 before I started my blog. One of my favourites.

  • […] This week, I continue with the rest of the stories from Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of nine, Interpreter of Maladies. I posted about the first 5 stories HERE. […]

  • chasing bawa says:

    I just read this last week as I found it on a bookshelf at my parent’s house (I think it belongs to my sister). I’ve been dying to read some Lahiri and I really enjoyed the book (I love reading short stories anyway). She really writes well. I think my favourite story was Mrs. Sen’s.

    • Michelle says:

      I’m catching on with short stories, but somehow, I think reading this collection from Lahiri felt like an overdosage. Maybe if I had spread it out a bit more, it would have read better.

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