Jhumpa Lahiri: Interpreter of Maladies (2000)

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Author: Paul Brians
Editor: Jelena O. Krstovic
Date: 2007
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 96. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,737 words

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[(essay date 2003) In the following essay, Brians discusses the stories that comprise The Interpreter of Maladies and explains that their theme is not so much the problems of immigrants as it is miscommunication between couples.]

In recent times the literary world has become used to brilliant new writers emerging from South Asia. But when a book by a previously little-known woman author won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for best American work of fiction in 2000, it was sensational news, partly because Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies was a collection of short stories in an age when the novel is dominant. Two of the stories had appeared previously in the premier American outlet for short fiction, The New Yorker, and six others in less widely read periodicals; but to most reviewers and readers her brilliant writing came as a complete surprise. The book earned other major honors as well, including the PEN/Hemingway Award and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Lahiri was born in London in 1967 to Bengali immigrant parents from Calcutta. Her father is a librarian at the University of Rhode Island, and her mother a teacher who earned an MA in Bengali literature. The family had moved to the little town of South Kingston, Rhode Island, when she was three, so she has spent most of her life as an American and became a U.S. citizen at age eighteen, although from childhood on she has made many long visits to India. Some Indian critics have criticized Lahiri as an "outsider," but considerable praise for her work has also appeared in the South Asian press. So strong has the interest in her writing been in India that translations have been commissioned into Bengali, Hindi, and Marathi.

She studied English literature at Barnard College in New York City, and then at Boston University earned three master's degrees (in English, creative writing, and comparative literature and the arts), capping her academic career with a Ph.D. in Renaissance studies. Such a course of study would normally be a prelude to a career of teaching about literature, but Lahiri realized that her true love was creating literature. Indeed, she had been writing fiction steadily since the age of seven; her most influential educational experience was a two-year fellowship in writing at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts; and her only academic appointments have been in creative writing, at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design. In January 2001 Lahiri married Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, deputy editor of Time Latin America, in a traditional Bengali ceremony in Calcutta. They now reside in New York City. She published a novel, The Namesake, to general acclaim in 2003, too late for inclusion here.

Lahiri has been hailed as an outstanding member of a post-Rushdie generation of Indian writers who have turned their backs on magical realism and other experiments to write well-crafted traditional realist fiction. Her stories belong to the long tradition of delicate character sketches, avoiding sensational...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420075388