Friday, May 2, 2008

Interpreter of Maladies & The Namesake

I've just started Jhumpa Lahiri's latest collection, Unaccustomed Earth, but I thought I'd precursor my thoughts on that with my feelings of her first two books. Lahiri won a Pulitzer for her debut collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. Her stories revolve around Indian Americans, those who have either moved here from India and must face adjustment, or those who were born here, yet feel somewhat out of place at home, within their own culture, or out in the world. I was moved by each and every one of these stories, especially the title story. Lahiri's talent is so true and so great, I'm in love (and a bit jealous). I went through a phase a couple years ago where I read as many novels about India that I could get my hands on (see here and here for examples). This book fell in the midst of that phase, and after just posting about it, I want to pick it up again.

Many people are probably familiar with The Namesake because it was a recent Hollywood movie, starring Kal Penn. While the movie was good, as in most cases, it doesn't do the book justice. The Namesake was Lahiri's second book, but instead of a collection of stories, this is a full-length novel about an Indian couple who get married, move to the United States and have children. The book spends much time on both the mother's struggles with her new American life (I love the passages about her driving) and Gogol's, the son, struggle with his identity as well. It's a beautiful story. While I preferred Interpreter of Maladies just a bit more, The Namesake is also extremely good.

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