Jhumpa Lahiri has won or been nominated for almost every prestigious literary award imaginable. And I haven’t read either of her two novels. I think I almost purposefully avoid award winners. Why do I do this? I think I tend to be disappointed when they don’t live up to this idea in my head of what an award winner should be. But I’m happy to say that Interpreter of Maladies deserved its Pulitzer.
It’s a collection of nine short stories focusing on Indian and Bengali characters both in India and in the States. You get nine brief glimpses into the lives of some beautifully rendered people having honest struggles. Many of those struggles revolve around marriage and relationships which is universal around the globe. You get realistic portrayals of what it feels like to be a foreigner in many different scenarios. You get a little bit of history, a lot of culture, and one of the best short story collections published in the last decade.
I read these stories in one sitting while the snow fell in Atlanta and everyone else seemed to be trapped in their vehicles. With the fire warming my toes, I literally could not stop reading long enough to care about those stranded commuters which included my husband. Maybe this makes me a terrible person or perhaps this makes Jhumpa Lahiri a magician or a wizard. Either way, I won the great snowpocalypse of 2014.
None of these stories are super joyful. In fact, most of them are downers. I had to take a couple of moments after each conclusion to mourn whatever needed mourning before I could continue. But I always continued. The pull of Lahiri’s writing was too much to resist no matter how gut-wrenching or desolate the stories read. What often irritates me about short story collections is how unfinished each snippet can be – how each story ends just as soon as you finally feel pulled in. Interpreter of Maladies didn’t have this flaw. I felt like I had gotten to know a complete story – or at least all I needed to know for the moment – at each story’s end. Utter perfection.
By now, you can clearly tell this was a no-brainer five star book for me. The Pulitzer people knew what they were doing with this selection. Now it’s your turn to pick it up for the first time or to reread and discover the magic all over again.