"The noise was constantly distracting, at times suffocating."Once again, I've been blown away by Lahiri's work. My introduction to Lahiri's work was The Namesake, which I will tell you, I absolutely adore. I found that often, when I discussed really enjoying said title, I'd receive an automatic recommendation for this collection of short stories. I was so glad to be able to share the experience with my reading group, because it was such a beautiful work, and was really enjoyed by all. I feel that even with the amount of time we devoted to discussing this collection, there is much to be ascertained upon subsequent reads. (And I will be rereading it.)
Lahiri is certainly a master of language. She so brilliantly constructs a very real environment, with a large and varied cast of characters. Her constructions are fastidious without being superfluous and taxing. I felt that each character was smartly designed and used to help maintain a certain flow from one story to the next.
This title, comprised of nine short stories, moves between the lives of those living in India, those from India that have recently relocated to America and those with interactions with these individuals. Once again, Lahiri's work heavily focuses on the changes that one experiences when moving out of their comfort zone. Individuals facing a culture that is so very foreign, while remaining loyal to their own traditions and expectations. Because Lahiri sets the reader up with glimpses into the lives of those within the confines of a static community, and those moving outside of these constructions, the reader recognizes this dichotomy for comparative purposes. Furthermore, Lahiri effectively brings attention to intimate details of daily life that are often overlooked.
Lahiri is also able to manipulate the perspective of the Christian reader, when she introduces a young, second generation Indian couple, who purchase a home in New England. When Twinkle, an eccentric wife, finds small religious relics throughout the house, and begins to display them on the mantle, the Christian objects become exotic and "collectible." Despite protestations from her husband, who begins questioning the marriage, Twinkle does not relent. We see that our character simultaneously begrudges his more "Americanized" wife, and fears losing his Indian identity, despite being out of touch with many traditions himself. It speaks volumes about millions of second and third generation Americans, who battle maintaining an identity through tradition, while growing up in another society. "This Blessed House" quickly became one of my favorite stories of the book.
Lahiri manages to seize the reader and explore worlds of love and loss, fear and despair. The last story manages to really pull the whole thing together, with a heartfelt conclusion, while juxtaposing two characters that represent very different ways of moving through life. All in all, I really believe that Lahiri wanted to stress that while you may encounter many changes in your life, there are some things you'll never let go of, and those that you'll embrace with arms wide open. And that is the beauty of this collection.
One of my favorite passages:
Whenever he is discouraged, I tell him that if I can survive on three continents, then there is no obstacle he cannot conquer [...] Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.
I highly recommend Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies.