I encountered Jhumpa Lahiri’s cadence in graduate school when we’re asked to read the beginning short story “A Temporary Matter” in the light of postmodernist criticism. I forgot how I answered that examination on comparative literature. What I remembered was sweat excreting on my palms. I guess reading under pressure is not a wonderful reading experience.
The second time I encountered Jhumpa Lahiri was at a modest bookshop in Davao City (Weird flex: technically, no visitor was allowed to go there. One has to maybe have his/her orders delivered or go to meetup. But my friend was a patron so I went rummaging in the house with him, cheating our way to secure the best books that are not yet posted online. Shout out to Roel’s Bookshop! I miss you!) Interpreter of Maladies was on sale. I took it home along with Best American Essays, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, etc.
The third time I encountered it, Interpreter of Maladies kept me company on my sad weekends. (Aside: this is not supposed to be a literary analysis of sorts because I will truly fail, and I don’t want to spoil you with the plots and all that, and I really want you to read this masterpiece) These are different short stories bound by human frailty and failure to connect in this world. What I remembered on my reading it was I welled up tears at the final paragraph of the final tale, because I was enamored at my how daily experiences and aspirations are put in pages.
Interpreter of Maladies is an exploration of anything I had not read before (or maybe I was just not that well-read): secrets, relationships, silences, cultural accommodations and decay, diaspora and sense of home, trauma, nostalgia, displacement on the globalized age.
Jhumpa Lahiri writes in a simple prose one has to notice the silences and staggering ordinariness. Most people shelve them on short story section, but my unpopular opinion treats it as a novel, where characters did not necessarily intersect, but were bound by hollowness and humanity. It’s valid to think of the stories as different hues of thread interwoven to make up a fabric that is life.
Trivia time powered by Wikipedia: Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in the year 2000. It has sold 15 million copies worldwide and has been translated into different languages, like 疾病解说者, פרשן המחלות, 축복받은집, مترجم دردها, Преводачът на болести, and Người dịch bệnh. I owe you one, Wikipedia!
Another trivia time: My top 3 favorite short stories are A Temporary Matter, Sexy, and The Third and Final Continent.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s magnum opus is so great for me that I feel the world does not deserve her. I also thought that it’s so good that Jhumpa Lahiri is fine with only one book. I could email her and say, “Girl, you have done too much literary legacy for one book, and we could not ask for more. So go splurge all your royalty checks and sip wine at Maldives or ride a jetski at Miami Beach. We’ll get by.” By the way, Unaccustomed Earth is also heartfelt that it made me want to quit my teaching life and just stay at home, gardening.
Here are my favorite quotes from the book:
The fourth time I encountered Interpreter of Maladies I brought it back to Davao City last year. I was invited to be one of the resource persons in one youth council workshop. I forced my friend/the organizer of the event to read the book, so as much as I am possessive, I lent it to him. I was very happy that he liked the book. I still think about that book, the candelabra on the cover against an orange background. My friend didn’t notice until I am actually giving it to him, and that I’m learning to let things go or fly.