Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

"Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri (Flamingo 2000)

The stories have various settings - sometimes the setting's India, sometimes the focus is on Indians living in the USA, and sometimes a WASPy American in the States comes across Indians. Stories are well-crafted and plots are clearly delineated with contrasting characters and signposted resolutions.

In "A Temporary Matter" a couple begin to share secrets in the dark during some scheduled power-cuts. When the power-cuts are over, the woman announces that she's leaving. Here's the final paragraph - Shukumar stood up and stacked his plate on top of hers. He carried the plates to the sink, but instead of running the tap he looked out the window. Outside the evening was still warm, and the Bradfords were walking arm in arm. As he watched the couple the room went dark, and he spun around. Shoba had turned the lights off. She came back to the table and sat down, and after a moment Shukumar joined her. They wept together, for the things they now knew. - the contrast of the couples, the symbolism of the dark.

In "When Mr. Pirzada came to dine" the narrator is 10 year old Lilia, living in the States. Her parents are Indian. Mr. Pirzada often visits. His wife and 7 daughters are in war-torn Pakistan. It's Halloween, and he's helping Lilia to carve a pumpkin. Hearing bad news from Pakistan on the TV his knife slips. He's mortified. Lilia's father cuts an open astonished mouth to hide the mistake. Lilia gets ready to knock on doors. It's her first time. Mr. Pirzada fears for her safety but Lilia's ready

"Don't worry," I said. It was the first time I had uttered those words to Mr. Pirzada, two simple words I had tried but failed to tell him for weeks, had said only in my prayers. It shamed me now that I had said them for my own sake" (p.38)

In January, the war over, he returns to Pakistan. They hear nothing for a while, then discover that all's ok. The story ends with

Since January, each night before bed, I had continued to eat, for the sake of Mr. Pirzada's family, a piece of candy I had saved from Halloween. That night there was no need to. Eventually, I threw them away. (p.42)

In "Interpreter of Maladies" a wife reveals a secret to Mr Kapasi who she's never met before. On p.63 there's

" ... I could tell you stories, Mr. Kapasi"
As a result of spending all her time in college with Raj, she continued, she did not make many close friends

This passage of reported speech lasts a page. Until this point Mr. Kapasi has been the PoV focus. In this passage though, we get more than a summary of conversation; the PoV changes.

In "Sexy" Miranda, a WASPy woman, is having an affair with a married Indian man. In a whispering gallery he whispers "You're sexy" to her. She hears, though they're 30 feet apart. Later she spends an afternoon with a boy whose Indian father left his mother for a younger, white woman. The boy sketches her with wax crayons, says "You're sexy", explaining that "It means loving someone you don't know ... That's what my father did". He talks about his mother. Miranda decides to end the affair.

I got the book second-hand. "Sexy" has highlighting in 2 colours. I tried to work out the colour-coding - "Nothing you'll ever need to worry about," and he tapped her playfully on the head      had never bought anything other than a lipstick     tanned ... black hair ... knuckles ... flamingo pink shirt ... navy blue suit ... camel overcoat ... gleaming leather buttons ... pigskin gloves ... burgundy wallet ... tortoiseshell glasses     wrinkles are going to form by twenty-five. After that they just start showing     silver eyes ... skin as pale as paper ... dark and glossy ... features, too, were narrow     red tissue     grinning pig's head presiding over their conversation     buy herself things she thought a mistress should have     to an Indian restaurant     her hand moving in unfamiliar directions, stopping and turning and picking up     "You're sexy"

She's a good, reliable writer of Realism.

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