Thursday, July 30, 2009
This collection of short stories was my official selection for the 4R's Challenge, recommended by Kristen @ Booknaround and Violet Crush. I had mentioned in my thread that I was on the inept end of the spectrum with regards to the short story genre, and this was the recommendation they bestowed upon me. What made this suggestion even more serendipitous was the fact that I already had it on my list, mentioned months ago by C.B. James. I just couldn't pass it up.
I certainly had heard plenty about the author, Jhumpa Lahiri. This novel, her first, won the Pulitzer in 2000. Can you imagine coming out of the gate and nabbing that award? Or even better yet, writing your second novel, and hoping to match up to the first? You may recall her second novel, The Namesake, was made into a wonderful film a couple of years ago. This girl sets the standard, that is for sure. But I had no idea what to expect when I cracked open the first page. What I found was a group of nine gentle, easy-to-read stories about persons of Indian descent, in various stages of disenchantment, personal growth and discovery, and hope for the future. Where I found the collection of short stories from Say You're One of Them hard to take and without a ray of sunshine, this one delivered the goods. Here are a couple of stories that I especially enjoyed:
In the story entitled "Interpreter of Maladies", a tour guide escorts an American family with Indian ancestory around India to see a few sights. The family is your basic dysfunctional, narcissistic mess, but when the wife pays some special attention to the guide, he swiftly starts to fantasize about his future with her. He comes back around at the end of the story after a traumatic incident reveals the woman's true colors. The author's ability to create such vivid, flawed characters in a handful of pages was a delight. And unlike some short stories, you really weren't left wanting more. This was all you really needed to know.
In "The Third and Final Continent", a young Indian man arrives in America ahead of his new wife to establish himself. He rents a room from a difficult centenarian, lives on corn flakes, and studiously learns American slang. Lahiri delicately unfolds the life of an honorable, determined immigrant who struggles to get to know the stranger that is his wife, and a country that is vastly different than his own, all without complaint. He takes nothing for granted, for this is the American dream, and instills these values in his son. The story is precious, and is a reminder of the ideals and principals on which this country was founded.
From these stories, it is easy to establish that Lahiri is a student of the human condition. The difficulties between man and wife, noise that distracts from one's culture and religion, the need for acceptance and love, the desire to be attractive, the importance of respecting our elders, the feeling of isolation in a foreign country...no matter what the topic, Lahiri portrays it with elegance and grace. This is truly a work of art.
Thanks again, Kristen, Violet Crush and C.B. James! I look forward to the next round of the 4R Challenge!
5 out of 5 stars