10.29.2010

book of the month

Because I have so many books on my to-read list, I never get the chance to read the same book twice, let alone one of my all-time favorites such as Interpreter of Maladies by Jumpha Lahiri. So imagine my excitement when Molly of A Foreign Land chose this book for October’s Book Club Bloggers Book of the Month! I was looking forward to getting a second chance to luxuriate in Lahiri’s elegant prose. 

Lahiri is one of those rare writers who can say so much in so few words. And it’s strange because not much happens in her stories as far as action goes; you’re not sitting on the edge of your seat anticipating what will happen next. And yet, for me, I am always intensely interested in what the characters do and how they think and feel. I couldn’t put it down. 

I hate to have to quote the back of the book in what is supposed to be my own personal review, but I think this describes the collection of short stories in a way that I cannot: 

“Filled with quiet astonishments… Here is a brave new voice, laced with elegance and compassion.” 
– Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 

With that being said, I will now proceed to answer the questions that were posed as a sort of reading guide:

*Spoiler Alert!* 

1. What characterizes the sense of community in both the stories set in India and stories set in the U.S.? What maintains that sense, and what disrupts it? 

Being a foreigner seems to either strengthen or disrupt the sense of community. In my opinion, the sense of community in these stories was very small, hardly noticeable at all. For the most part, all the main characters seemed to live on the fringes, outside looking in. Or at times they were amongst it, on the inside looking out, but still alone, lonely. 

2. In Interpreter of Maladies, visitors to Konarak find the Chandrabhaga River dried up, and they can no longer enter the Temple of the Sun, "for it had filled with rubble long ago..." What other instances and images does Lahiri present of the collapse, deterioration, or passing of once-important cultural or spiritual values? 

In "A Temporary Matter" she presents the dissolution of a marriage; in "A Real Durwan"  she presents the deterioration of a once luxurious life of wealth and health; in both "Mrs. Sen's" and "The Third and Final Continent" she presents the passing of cultural and spiritual values: Mrs. Sen still holds onto her beautiful saris though she has nowhere to wear them and she still yearns for the fresh fish she used to eat in India, while the young student in the final story is thrown into the contemporary life of America while still married to a woman who was arranged as his wife, a woman who still wears saris and eats with her hands. 

3. Was the ending of “A Temporary Matter” a surprise to you? What elements of the story lead you to believe that it will end differently than it does? What elements foreshadow the actual ending? 

When I am reading a love story, or any story about a couple in love, I automatically put my boyfriend and myself in their place, whether or not our situation is alike in any way. So of course I hoped that Shukumar and Shoba would work through it and fall back in love, even if it was just to fulfill my own ideal. At first I felt that the nights of confession were a way for them to start speaking again, but looking back I realize that they only served as stepping-stones to make that last ultimate "confession." 

4. Lahiri has said, "As a storyteller, I'm aware that there are limitations in communication." What importance in the stories do miscommunication and unexpressed feelings have? 

The importance of miscommunication and unexpressed feelings in these stories is glaring: How well do we really know a person? How much do they keep hidden, unspoken? How much more do we know about a wife or husband (arranged or not) from a stranger who visits every week, from the woman who babysits us every day, from the elusive lover, from the woman living on the steps outside our home, or from the landlady we exchange routine pleasantries with?

8 comments:

Eri said...

Hello, my name is Erica and I have just joined the BookClubBloggers, I'm Italian and this is the first time I read a book in english to write a review, so I'm having a look at your reviews about the book of October.
In my blog "Bryce's'House" I opened a reading group and then a new blog "Reading Group Bryce's House", we are more than 40 participants and we are reading together the second book, we like Jane Austen but we read also other contemporary authors. The difficulty for me is always to choose the book which could affect the whole group, so I proceed with surveys.
Congratulations for your blog, see you soon, kisses. Erica.

Galit said...

This book is currently on my library reservations! I kid you not!

I skipped your spoilers but will come back to read your full review after I'll finish it.

Have a great Friday!
Galit

Helen said...

I loved your review: "How well do we really know a person? How much do they keep hidden, unspoken? " That was sure an important part of the book and it really kept me thinking.

katie said...

mmm, thanks for going through the questions! i completely forgot about those, and i like how you use them to dig deeper than just overall impressions, or to look at themes that don't seem to be the obvious ones in a given reader's interpretation. thanks for sharing!

katie @ doctors terry (previously life of piefairy)

geeta said...

I haven't had a chance to read this book, but 'The Namesake' by Jhumpa Lahiri is also wonderful!

I would also highly recommend Rohinton Mistry's- 'A Fine Balance', and Vikram Seth's- 'A Suitable Boy'. Both haunting & beautiful, -the latter being one of my favorite books ever.

andrea said...

thanks for the suggestions geeta!

Krystal said...

Ok, Mark is back in the US so I'm going to make him get me the book for this month! haha :)

Charlotte said...

Sorry, I'm totally late in responding to these reviews. I got blindsided by Fashion Week. :P

But I love how willingly you participate in each month's book and review! You always leave excellent, encouraging comments on everyone's reviews, and I love that about you. :)

I'm also glad Molly was able to help you enjoy a well-loved for a 2nd time!

ps. I still owe you an email about "Time Traveler's Wife". I'll get there, I promise!