Book Reviews

Interpreter of Maladies

Well, everyone knows that Jhumpa won Pulitzer prize for this work of hers. The book contains 9 short stories, of which one of the short story is titled 'Interpreter of Maladies', which has been chosen as the name of the book.

Is Jhumpa merely a story-teller? Or is she, as the title suggests, an interpreter of maladies afflicting modern society? Each of the stories deal with characters caught in the vortex of life, at times finding happiness by surmounting their problems ( A Temporary Matter) or by a stroke of luck ( The Treatment of Bibi Halder ). At other times, more hardship and despair stares at their face in the end ( A Real Durwan) or their fantasies gets shattered ( Interpreter of Maladies).

The stories are of myriad hues. Even though most of the stories tell the lives of Indians in exile, of people navigating the strict tradition they have inherited and the New World they encounter every day. A young couple exchange confessions each night as they struggle to cope with the loss of their baby and their failing marriage ; A Bangladeshi Mr. Pirzada worries about his family back home; a young western lady has a tempestuous affair with a married Bengali man; an Interpreter guides an American Indian family through the India of their ancestors and stumbles upon an astonishing revelation; a nervous Mrs. Sen must learn to drive if she is to keep her job minding eleven-year-old Eliot after school & an Indian man who learns to admire a strict 103 year old American lady - the owner of the house where he lived as a tenant.

Some of the stories, I felt, left the readers with a few questions unanswered. For example, in the story 'Mrs. Sen' I couldn't figure out at the end why there existed a gulf between Mr. and Mrs. Sen? Is it the lack of offspring in their lives? Or was I really missing something? Also in the story 'The Blessed House,' how come so much of treasure have been left behind by the previous owners? Jhumpa doesn't attempt to unravel the mystery behind this treasure stored in the Blessed House, but only inform her readers that this discovery leads to the relationship between the newly-wedded couples getting strained.

Overall,  Jhumpa weaves magic with her stories. Written in a lucid language, her work is a delight to read enlightening us about characters, whether from India or Indians settled in America, effectively capturing their maladies and proving herself to be a successful interpreter. For someone who was born and raised in the West, her sketch detailing the nuances of everyday Indian and particularly Bengali life is masterly.  


More by :  Subhajit Ghosh

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