I’m not into reviewing books much as I enjoy reading them probably because the analysis spoils the joy of reading. It is probably because we were forced to review books and movies as literature students in college and now, the very thought of writing a book review seems sheer drudgery. Perhaps it is also because I suck at writing book reviews.
But there are times when a book is so compelling not only because of the sheer strength of its narration, characters and contexts but also the use of language which is straight from the heart. Such a book tugs at the reader’s heart while provoking the reader to think and place themselves in a situation similar or far beyond their scope of vision. Such a book changes perspective and at times steers the reader to look within.
Such a book just stays on far after the final chapter is over and the back of the book cover closed. Pulitzer prize winning Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies is one such.
Essentially a collection of short stories, the book explores the struggles that people displaced from self or familiarity or their homeland grapple with as they try to find meaning to their existence. Though the book is about Indians and Indian Americans living in conflict between the culture they were brought up in and a new (alien) culture, the beauty of the narrative is that the sense of bewilderment is something that a reader of any nationality or culture would have experienced, albeit in different circumstances, when being uprooted. The characters and their emotions that anyone can relate to, and not necessarily unique to a Bengali. It is this sense of loss that ultimately becomes the thread that weaves the nine stories together.
Whether it is the old sweeper, the demented child woman, the Interpreter or the student among the myriad central characters that play in the book each of them has been deftly etched, their personality defined, the narrative powerful, simple and never meandering but always taking the reader to a new level of understanding human nature. Being able to create such well-defined characters in short story format is nothing short of brilliant.
Beyond that, read the book for its elegance in prose, its great story telling that very succinctly captures nuances unique to Indians, that at times is poignant and other times downright irritating. Some of the depictions border on stereotypes but again it does not take away from the story and in fact adds to the story. The endings leave you guessing but again gives you scope to imagine a new beginning or a good end to a miserable, deformed relationship.
And for that alone this is one book that is Highly Recommended.