Lahiri has a serious gift for telling a story with elegance and wisdom. Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of nine short stories, each with a focus on Indian culture and what it means to be a foreigner. Normally I'm not a big fan of short story collections, but after I read The Namesake I wanted to explore more of Lahiri's works. I was not disappointed. Each story details the immigrant experience in a unique way. Among my favorites were "A Temporary Matter," "Interpreter of Maladies,""Sexy," "Mrs. Sen's" and "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar".
While each story can stand alone and depicts different view of the Indian American, they also work well in a collection as they are strongly connected in themes and motifs. Lahiri examines the subject of an immigrants identity in terms of it's mutability and disconnectedness; can an immigrant maintain his or her cultural identity while also adapting to their new, foreign lives? And if so, to what extent does this involve resistance to their new life, and at what cost? Is the formation of multiple identities, or even broken identities, worth the struggle?
While astronauts, heros forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my acheivement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home and I am certainly not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.
The stories in Lahiri's collection are both eye-opening and heartbreaking. I'd recommended this book to anyone interested in gaining a greater understanding of today's immigrant experience. Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000.
Publisher: Mariner Books, 1999