Jhumpa Lahiri

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Date: May 11, 2021
Document Type: Biography
Length: 3,106 words

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"Sidelights"

Jhumpa Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. Born in London and raised in Rhode Island, she earned degrees from Barnard College and Boston University. In addition to winning a Pulitzer, Lahiri has received the O. Henry Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, the Best Book Award from the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, an Asian American Literary Award, and the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She began lecturing in creative writing at Princeton University in 2015.

Lahiri, the daughter of Bengali parents, has spent considerable time with her extended family in Kolkata, India. This locale serves as the setting for three of the nine stories in her debut collection, Interpreter of Maladies, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000. The stories in the collection, three of which had already appeared in the New Yorker, deal with such themes as marital problems, experiences of Indian immigrants to the United States, and translations of not only language, but experience. Newsweek reviewer Laura Shapiro wrote that Lahiri "writes such direct, translucent prose you almost forget you're reading." Caleb Crain wrote in the New York Times that Lahiri's collection "features marriages that have been arranged, rushed into, betrayed, invaded, and exhausted. Her subject is not love's failure, however, but the opportunity that an artful spouse (like an artful writer) can make of failure--the rebirth possible in a relationship when you discover how little of the other person you know. In Lahiri's sympathetic tales, the pang of disappointment turns into a sudden hunger to know more."

The stories in Interpreter of Maladies include the title story, which earned an O. Henry Award in 1999, as well as "A Temporary Matter" and "This Blessed House," among others. "This Blessed House" is the story of Indian newlyweds Twinkle and Sanjeev, who are at odds over Twinkle's laid-back habits and her fascination with the Christian knickknacks left by the previous homeowners. They include a Nativity snow globe, a paint-by-number picture of the wise men, and a Virgin Mary lawn ornament. Crain wrote that Lahiri "is not out to convert Hindus here, nor is she indulging in sarcasm at the expense of sincere belief. But not even religion is sacred to her writerly interest in the power of a childlike sympathy, going where it ought not go."

Other stories featured in the collection include "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine," the story of ten-year-old Lilia who learns about the politics and hardships of India from a family friend; "Third and Final Continent," which tells of a librarian putting together the basics in his rented room in anticipation of the arrival of his wife; and "Mrs. Sen," the story of a lonely Indian wife trying to make do in the United States. She wears her beautiful saris as she prepares fresh fish, which reminds her of her native Calcutta. She is sustained by aerograms from her family, who envy her, and the little boy she cares for, who learns...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000142379