Book Reviews

The Interpreter of Stories

I was 19 when I first read the Interpreter of Maladies, shortly after it was published. At the time I did not properly understand, or indeed appreciate, many of the stories. The two that stayed with me, but didn’t receive much attention in reviews and discussions of the book, were ‘The Real Durwan’ and ‘Sexy’.

I remember reading ‘A Temporary Matter,’ the first story in the book, and feeling a touch of gloom, but overall it left me underwhelmed. My family and I were all crammed into a car, on a four-hour road trip. My sister was expecting at the time. The discussion turned to Jhumpa Lahiri and her book. I mentioned that I had started reading it, and had finished the first story. My father had read the book before me. When my sister asked what the story was about, I slipped her the one-line premise. My father, unseen by my sister, and strongly suspecting that I possessed the emotional intelligence of a raccoon, gripped my elbow, to stop me blurting out the underlying subject at the core of the story – a miscarriage. He needn’t have worried. I was 19 but not foolish.

As I prepare to write seven more short stories during the year, I am reading the masters to study what works and what doesn’t. I am especially dissecting the stories that resonated with me, made sense to me, and left me thinking about the characters long after I’d turned the last page.

In short, to become a better short-story writer, I have to become an Interpreter of Stories.

Most of Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories fall into this category. Somehow her novels never tempted me, though Mira Nair made an amazing film out of her novel The Namesake. An excerpt of her latest novel The Lowland looks promising, but I haven’t got around to reading it yet.

In her second collection, Unaccustomed Earth, I enjoyed the stories of Hema and Kaushik that form the second half of the book, more than the unconnected stories in the first half.

The other story collections I’ve read recently are:

The Red Carpet by Lavanya Sankaran

Revolt of the Fish-eaters by Lopa Ghosh

Have you read any short-story collections lately?