The Life of Bon: May Book Club: Interpreter of Maladies

Thursday, May 28, 2015

May Book Club: Interpreter of Maladies


Every month we read a book.  On the selected day, we talk about it. (Generally the last Thursday of the month).

Join in for whatever books you can.  Read what you want and comment on what you want.  Some readers write their own review on their blog and then link up to it, others just write their thoughts in the comments- it's up to you!  If you write your own post and link up, please slap the image above on your post! Grazi!


+ What story did you like the most?  The least?
+ The majority of the stories end without much resolution.  Why do you think Lahiri does this?  As a reader, did you like the way the stories ended or no?
+ Any characters in the stories who you especially related to?  Any characters you hated?
+ What is the significance of the title, Interpreter of Maladies?

My co-host this month is Tayler from The Morrell Tale.  She is a fellow teacher, but she braves the world of Jr. High History and English.  I was so excited when she said she wanted to host book club with me and loved reading her thoughts on the book.  Take it away, Tayler!

Hey y'all! I am so excited to join with Bonnie for her book club! We English teachers have to stick together!

I will be quite honest...I am full of all sorts of jumbled opinions about Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I had never heard of it before. Salt Lake County's entire library system didn't have it! Our local Barnes and Noble didn't have it! I had to order it on Amazon!

I brought it with me to school to read during my Study Skills (Study Hall/Homework Period). I mentioned it to my fellow teacher-friend who shares my classroom (she teaches part-time in the morning and I, part-time in the afternoon) if she had ever heard of it. She mentioned she read it when it first came out and loved parts of it and hated parts of it. After finishing all the short stories, I have to agree with her.

It is a very interesting dynamic, these short stories. They all have to do with families and universal issues, such as true love, miscarriages, falling out of love, childcare, buying new homes, pregnancy, marriage, affairs, etc. However, what makes them unique is the fact that they are all...well, mundane is the wrong word.,,anti-climatic. They end very quickly without ever reaching a traumatic climax. And yet, you are still wrapped up in their worlds, begging to know what happened next. The worst of this for me was "A Temporary Matter"--I'm still not sure if Shoba did decided to leave or not after Shukumar told her the gender of their miscarried baby. The next was "This Blessed House" because I don't know if Sanjeev really ever ended up loving his new, eccentric wife.

One thing that I didn't like about these short stories was that the majority of them were saddening. It seemed like Lahiri focused on only the sad parts of married life and parenthood. To me, seven out of ten ended on a negative note, Thankfully, the last two short stories, "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" and "The Third and Final Continent" ended happily.

I wondered why Lahiri decided to name her anthology "The Interpreter of Maladies" based off one of the short stories. Why that one specifically? It was one of my least favorites! In the short story, Mr. Kapasi was an interpreter for a local doctor to help patients explain their ailments to the doctor and for the doctor to prescribe them a remedy. So, he was, in a sort of way, an interpreter of maladies. And, honestly, as I am writing this, my English teaching brain is turning and I think I may know why...because of the themes in these short stories, I think Lahiri decided to name it this because that is how she saw herself...she was giving scenes of real life, different "maladies" real people experience.

The last note I have to make is that I found it interesting that Lahiri focused all her stories on the Indian culture: in India, immigrants to the US, or Indian-Americans. It was interesting reading the nuances of their culture, and the detail that Lahiri put into describing the food preparation...especially since I just watched the current episode of MasterChef, in which there is both an Indian and an Lebanese that use those same preparation and cooking techniques! 

I would recommend this book, but as a teacher, not to anyone younger than Junior year, and those juniors would have to be mature. There really isn't anything "inappropriate" in the stories, but they are just emotionally and mentally heavy.

I think this is the hardest book review I've ever had to write.  Leading up to writing this post I have thought over and over what I would say and nothing has come to mind.  Like Tayler, my opinions are very jumbled and all over the place.  These stories seem like the type where you need weeks and months to let them float around in your head before you decide what you think of them.

So I'll tell you what I do know for sure about my feelings on these stories.  When I first read these stories I was a senior in college and my roommate recommended the book to me.  My sister in law, who lived in New Delhi, had also recommended the book.  Both of these people are big readers and I trust their opinions on recommendations.  So, I read the stories and I loved them.  Six years later, that is basically all I can remember. (And can we not talk about how gross it is that I have been done with college for six years?)

I was excited to read the stories again.  I only remembered details of the first story, A Temporary Matter, and even then I only remembered that it was about a couple who always ignored each other and then reconnected when their power went out.  When I reread it, I was totally surprised to remember that the reason for their distance was that they had suffered a miscarriage together and he had not been there when it happened.  It's interesting to me that this very large part of the story faded from my memory whereas now I think it would be the thing that I most remembered.  I felt much more deeply for this story and connected to it.  I guess it is all just about time in life.  As a senior in college this would have been a story about someone's struggles who was very different from me.  Now reading it, I could imagine it and feel it much more.

I keep thinking about Lahiri's characters.  I appreciate these short stories because the characters are so unlikeable.  It's easy to tell a good story when everyone likes the characters.  But Lahiri's characters are truly awful people- they have affairs, tell lies, ignore their wives, etc.  But I was still interested in these people and I think that is a testament to Lahiri's ability to tell a story.  Somehow I cared and was interested in these people, even though I kind of hated them all.  (Reminded me of my feelings about Great Gatsby characters.)  As John Green says "I don't know where people got the idea that characters in books are supposed to be likeable.  Books are not in the business of creating merely likeable characters with whom you can have some simple identification.  Books are in the business of creating great stories that make your brain go all like fhasofaosrhghibadaba!"  Gotta love that John Green!  (FYI:  That quote is from his crash course on The Great Gatsby.  If you like John Green or The Great Gatsby or people who talk really fast, I highly recommend you watch it.)

My favorite story was either A Temporary Matter or Sexy.  I was very interested in the way Lahiri told Sexy- the way we saw Laxmi trying to comfort her cousin (whose husband was having an affair) and at the same time watched Lami's best friend, Miranda, have an affair with a married man.  I loved how we saw both sides of that.  HOW COULD ANYONE HAVE AN AFFAIR WITH A MARRIED MAN? and then on the next page, Lahiri shows us exactly how.

Reading these short stories again, I can not say I liked them.  Like Tayler said, they are mostly depressing and about unlikeable people.  I would, however, definitely recommend the stories for their ability to challenge our ideas, to stretch the mind, and to analyze literature on a deeper level.  I for sure want to do at least one of these stories with my AP class next year- just can't decide which one.

Have any of you read The Namesake by Lahiri?  I was interested enough in Interpreter of Maladies that I'm thinking about reading that this summer.

Alright, your turn!  Add your thoughts!  Tayler and I will be responding to every comment.  If you wrote your own post, leave the link in the comments and we will for sure check it out.  Let's get this book talk started!  And don't forget June's book is Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (Author of Gone Girl.)  It is a mystery/suspense and should be perfect for some beach reading to get your summer rolling.  That discussion will take place on June 25.

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