INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri

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In a Pulitzer prize-winning collection of short stories, Lahiri explores themes of relationship and cultural identity through a variety of compelling characters.  A power outage seems to offer an opportunity for Shoba and Shukumar to reconnect after the stillbirth of their child disfigured their marriage.  A young girl forms a friendship with her family’s Pakistani houseguest as he waits for word of his own family, still in Dacca during a violent civil war.  A tour guide and interpreter observes the idiosyncrasies of the marriage of two Indian-American tourists and finds himself drawn to the seemingly disaffected wife.  An elderly, ailing refugee serves as the unofficial doorwoman for a Calcutta apartment building until the unexpected promotion of one of the residents leads the others to reconsider question their own social standing.  After conversations with her coworker, Miranda begins to see her affair with a handsome, married Bengali man in a different light.  Eliot experiences a fascinating new culture under the care of his new nanny, Mrs. Sen.  Sanjeev cannot understand his new wife’s delighted obsession with the Christian paraphernalia left hidden throughout their house by the previous occupants.  An ailing woman knows that a marriage would cure her strange illness, but her stingy cousin refuses to arrange one for her.  A young immigrant to America forms a friendship with his centenarian landlady as he struggles to connect with the wife his family chose for him.

The stories are beautifully told glimpses into Indian culture in America and abroad.  While the majority of them are somewhat contemplative with realistic, but not particularly uplifting endings, there are a couple of exceptions.  Pick up this book if you enjoy thought-provoking literary fiction.

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