Tag Archives: jhumpa lahiri


For the Pulitzer Prize Winner category of the 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge, I chose Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I am a big fan of Lahiri’s, and enjoyed her books The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth and The Lowland. Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories that follows the same themes as Lahiri’s novels: immigration, loneliness, identity and connection in unexpected places.

Most of the stories in this collection involve Indian immigrants to the U.S., usually in the 70s or 80s, and usually to Massachusetts. There are couples learning to love each other after arranged marriages, graduate students trying to assimilate into American culture, and Americans to understand immigrants. Like in her other books, Lahiri has deep compassion for her characters and, in her quiet, elegant way, conveys the isolation and rootlessness they feel living in a new place and trying to find their way. There is restraint to Lahiri’s writing, just as her characters are often emotionally restrained in how they relate to each other and express their feelings.

I don’t love short stories because I often feel they lack staying power, and I feel similarly about Interpreter of Maladies. I enjoyed the stories a lot while I read them, but to write this review, I had to flip back through the book to remind myself of the different plots. The strongest one is the first, “A Temporary Matter,” about a married couple finally communicating with each other about the stillborn baby they lost months earlier. Sadly, the gulf of silence that has grown between them proves to be uncrossable and they separate by the end of the story. I also enjoyed “Mrs. Sen’s”, a story about an American boy who spends his afternoons in the care of an newly immigrated Indian woman who is isolated in her house because she’s too afraid to learn to drive.

I am glad I finally got to Interpreter of Maladies, which had been on my shelf for years. (Also my daughter is going to read it for school in January, so I can talk about it with her.) And I ticked another category off the challenge list. One more to finish!

THE LOWLAND by Jhumpa Lahiri

I have to thank the EDIWTB readers who commented on this post and urged me to keep reading The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. I picked it back up last week and finished it today. It was not my favorite Jhumpa Lahiri, but it is still very good.

The Lowland is about two brothers – Subhash and Udayan – who were born 15 months apart in India. Subhash was the conventional, obedient son who moved to American in his 20s to study oceanography. Udayan, the younger brother, got involved with an anti-establishment movement called the Naxalite movement in the late 60s. He maintained a double life – living with his parents and wife, Gauri, and teaching science at a high school, but was secretly involved with the movement, including being an accessory to the murder of an Indian policeman. Ultimately, Udayan is killed by the police, in front of his wife and parents.

Subhash returns to India when his brother is killed, where duty compels him to marry his widowed sister-in-law and bring her to America. The Lowland further explores this notion of duty – Subhash’s duty to Gauri, Gauri’s to Subhash, and the consequences of their keeping secret the circumstances under which they married.

Like Lahiri’s earlier work, The Lowland is told in a quiet, understated manner. Her characters may be flawed, but they are human and deeply sympathetic. The book is fused with sadness, as these characters experience heartbreak and loneliness for years on end. For the first time, though, I found some imperfections in Lahiri’s writing. Her characters already well-established, there was no need for passages at the end of the book that restated her characters’ histories (over and over). The Lowland needed a good edit. (Maybe that’s what happens when you’re a Pulitzer Prize winner – people assume your work doesn’t need editing?)

I enjoyed The Lowland and was moved by the story and characters. Lahiri propels the plot forward with subtle twists and moves among her characters seamlessly, offering different perspectives of the same events that enhance the richness of the novel. In the end, The Lowland was not my favorite Lahiri – it left me a little cold. But a not-favorite Lahiri is still a wonderful read. I recommend it and it was a great book to finish off 2013 (unless I fit in another book by next Tuesday).

Six Furlough Fiction Reads

I live in DC, and I have a lot of friends who are furloughed thanks to the federal budget impasse. I am sure that some of you guys are getting restless at home with all the unexpected downtime. (Once your closets are cleaned out and you’ve gone to the gym, what are you supposed to do with your time?) While I hope for everyone’s sake that the furlough ends soon, in case it extends another week or two, here are some books to consider picking up while you’re at home. They aren’t terribly long, so you should be able to finish one or two before you go back to work, and they are engrossing enough to keep your mind off the annoying situation on Capitol Hill keeping you from work.

Six Furlough Fiction Reads

1. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. This one just came out, and I just started it, so I don’t have a review yet to link to. But Lahiri’s other books are wonderful (The Namesake is my favorite), and this one is also supposed to be great. Check out Swapna’s review at S.Krishna’s Books. She is an East Asian fiction expert, so she knows of which she blogs. If you haven’t read The Namesake yet, that’s another great furlough read. You could even make a whole day of it and rent the movie afterwards – here’s my take on Book vs. Movie: The Namesake.

2. Labor Day by Joyce Maynard. This isn’t Maynard’s latest novel, but I really liked it and think it’d make an excellent furlough read. It’s about a long weekend, told through the eyes of a 13 year-old boy whose mother has taken in a fugitive. Labor Day is sad and haunting but memorable. Bonus: it’s being made into a movie with Kate Winslet due out at the end of the year. Hopefully it will NOT be a furlough movie.

3. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. I loved this book (as have millions of others). If you missed it in 2010, it’s the story of an immigrant girl from Hong Kong who toils away in a New York City sweatshop while trying to learn English and ultimately get accepted to college.  Girl in Translation is heartbreaking and eye-opening, and would be a good book to get your mind off your own problems.

4. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. I read this one last fall, and it has really stayed with me. It’s about a dystopian world in which the earth’s rotation has slowed down. The Age of Miracles is one of the most creative books I’ve ever read. Walker’s depiction of the gradual changes brought on by the slowdown, and the ways in which people reacted to those changes, was both realistic and totally original. It’s a stressful read, but again, it will take your mind off the furlough.

5. Anything by Jennifer Haigh, but in particular The Condition and Baker Towers. I love everything this woman has ever written, but if you’re just starting out with Haigh, try those first. They are deeply involving and moving novels that suck you in with measured prose and perfectly paced storytelling.

6.  Finally, you can read a debut novel BY a furloughed government worker, Michael Landweber. We is his highly creative book about a fortysomething who finds that he can go back in time into the mind of his seven-year self, thus presenting the opportunity to prevent a terrible event that befell his sister. It’s a quick, exhilarating read by a promising new writer.

So while you’re passing the hours at home trying not to check your Blackberry (yes, Blackberry – this is the government), give these books a try. And then let me know what you thought.


Happy Birthday Jhumpa Lahiri!

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite authors: Jhumpa Lahiri. I greatly enjoyed The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth, and have Interpreter of Maladies on my TBR list.

Here is a bio of Jhumpa Lahiri from NPR's The Writer's Almanac today. I love that she didn't even know she had won the Pulitzer, and I also like what she said about her clear, simple writing.

LahiriIt's the birthday of writer Jhumpa Lahiri, born in London (1967). Her parents were Bengali immigrants from India. When Lahiri was two years old, her father got a job as a librarian at the University of Rhode Island, and they moved to America. Her mother spent all day pushing young Jhumpa around in a stroller and making friends with everyone she saw on the street who looked Bengali. On weekends, the whole family would get together with other Bengali families, sometimes driving for hours to other states for a party. The adults cooked Bengali food and spoke Bengali and reminisced; the kids all watched television together.

Throughout her childhood, Lahiri wrote stories to entertain herself. She went to college at Barnard, then to graduate school at Boston University, where she earned what she called 'an absurd number of degrees' — an M.F.A, a master's degree, and a Ph.D. She loved to write, but she struggled to get her stories published. She was on the verge of going to work in retail when Houghton Mifflin agreed to publish her first book for a small advance. That book was The Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of nine stories about Bengalis and Bengali-Americans living in suburban New England. The plots centered on the ordinary details of marriages, families, jobs, cooking, and hosting parties. The Interpreter of Maladies came out in 1999, but the publishers didn't expect to sell many copies so they only released it in trade paperback. As expected, it didn't get much notice at first.

Lahiri had no idea that The Interpreter of Maladies was a contender for any prizes, and then one day she got a phone call. She said: 'I was in my apartment. We had just come back from a short trip to Boston and I was heating up some soup for my lunch. My suitcases were still not unpacked. And the phone rang. It was one or two in the afternoon. The person who called me was from Houghton Mifflin, my publisher, but no one I knew, and she said, "I need to know what year you were born." And then she asked some other fact like where I was born. I just told her. Sometimes people need some information for a reading, for a flyer or something. And then she said, "You don't know why I am calling, do you?" And I said, "No, why are you calling?" And she said, "You just won the Pulitzer."' It was the first time a paperback had ever won the Pulitzer. The Interpreter of Maladies became an immediate best-seller. Lahiri was uncomfortable with her new fame — she said, 'If I stop to think about fans, or best-selling, or not best-selling, or good reviews, or not-good reviews, it just becomes too much. It's like staring at the mirror all day.' So she doesn't read reviews, and she keeps her Pulitzer wrapped in bubble wrap.

Her next book was a novel, The Namesake, another best-seller about Bengali-Americans; and her third book, a collection of stories called Unaccustomed Earth debuted as No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

Jhumpa Lahiri said about her writing: 'I like it to be plain. It appeals to me more. There's form and there's function and I have never been a fan of just form. My husband and I always have this argument because we go shopping for furniture and he always looks at chairs that are spectacular and beautiful and unusual, and I never want to get a chair if it isn't comfortable. I don't want to sit around and have my language just be beautiful.'

Upcoming Show on “That’s How I Blog”

I am very excited for my upcoming show  – Tuesday 3/9 at 9 PM ET – on "That's How I Blog", a weekly Blog Talk Radio show hosted by Nicole of Linus's Blanket. During each show, Nicole talks to a different book blogger about her blog, why she started it, what books she likes to read, etc. I have been catching up on this month's shows, and am getting really excited to be on myself! Nicole is an excellent interviewer – calm and relaxed, but full of good questions.

If you'd like to tune in to my interview, go to this site. You can listen online, or you can call in (I think). If you have any questions you'd like me to answer, leave them as a comment on this post and I will send them to Nicole. If you can't tune in, you can also download the episode after it airs. I will post a link once it's done.

At the end of the show, I will be doing a 20-minute book club with Nicole.  We will be discussing Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri. You can dial in to the book club portion of the show if you'd like to participate.

Thanks in advance for tuning in!


Reviews abound for Jumpa Lahiri’s new short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth. See here and here and here. But one I especially liked was in last Friday’s New York Times. (I will still never understand why some papers, like The Washington Post and The New York Times, duplicate efforts by reviewing books in the daily arts section and then again in the weekly book review. With so many good books out there to review, why give one book two reviews?).

Here’s part of the review:

LahiriJumpa Lahiri’s characters tend to be immigrants from India and their American-reared children, exiles who straddle two countries, two cultures, and belong to neither: too used to freedom to accept the rituals and conventions of home, and yet too steeped in tradition to embrace American mores fully. These Indian-born parents want the American Dream for their children — name-brand schools, a prestigious job, a roomy house in the suburbs — but they are cautious about the pitfalls of life in this alien land, and isolated by their difficulties with language and customs. Their children too are often emotional outsiders: having grown up translating the mysteries of the United States for their relatives, they are fluent navigators of both Bengali and American culture but completely at home in neither; they always experience themselves as standing slightly apart, given more to melancholy observation than wholehearted participation.

As she did in her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories Interpreter of Maladies and her dazzling 2003 novel The Namesake, Ms. Lahiri writes about these people in Unaccustomed Earth with an intimate knowledge of their conflicted hearts, using her lapidary eye for detail to conjure their daily lives with extraordinary precision: the faint taste of coconut in the Nice cookies that a man associates with his dead wife; the Wonder Bread sandwiches, tinted green with curry, that a Bengali mother makes for her embarrassed daughter to take to school. A Chekhovian sense of loss blows through these new stories: a reminder of Ms. Lahiri’s appreciation of the wages of time and mortality and her understanding too of the missed connections that plague her husbands and wives, parents and children, lovers and friends.

Many of the characters in these stories seem to be in relationships that are filled with silences and black holes. In some cases this is the result of an arranged marriage that’s never worked out; in others it is simply a case of people failing to communicate or failing to reach out, in time, for what they want.

I haven’t read Interpreter of Maladies, but I loved The Namesake. I’d love to give this collection a try.

Has anyone read this book yet? I know, I know, it’s been out for about two hours. Superfast Reader? (I know you loved The Namesake).

Book vs Movie: THE NAMESAKE

NamesakeI saw “The Namesake” tonight, which is based on Jumpa Lahiri’s book The Namesake. Great book, very good movie.

For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s about an Indian couple who have an arranged marriage and move to the U.S., where they have two children and settle outside New York City.  Their children grow up torn between their parents’ traditional Indian lifestyles and their wholly American sensibilities. The book is a poignant story about the push and pull of generations, tradition, and the need to forge one’s own identity.

So which is better? The book, of course, has the benefit of detail and eloquence. The movie, however, is faithful to the book, retaining the most important plot points and some of the details that made the book so memorable. (Though as I sit here now, flipping through the book, I am discovering a lot of little insights and plot developments that the movie, by necessity, left out). So while the book is perhaps more nuanced and certainly fuller than the movie, the movie admirably captures the bittersweet themes of the book.  Given the challenges of cramming 291 pages into 117 minutes, the adapted screenplay did about as good a job as it could have. Advantage: Tie.

Even if you haven’t read the book, go see the movie. Definitely the best I have seen this year, with the possible exception of “The Queen.”

Anyone care to weigh in on the merits of Book vs. Movie, “Namesake” edition?