10.27.2010

Book Club Bloggers: October Book Review



The book of choice this month for the Book Club Bloggers was one that I was unfamiliar with - Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I ordered the book (used) from Amazon and then took it with me one night when Peter was working an electrical job and I had a few hours to kill sitting in a camp chair watching him manhandle wires. I was able to read the whole book in one sitting - I like those kind of books. However, with no offence to the person who chose the book (sorry Molly!), that's pretty much the only thing I liked about it.

Interpreter of Maladies: Stories

I went into it with high expectations - for one thing, the Indian culture is so diverse and I love Indian food (which, I do realize, does not mean that I'm going to like books by Indian authors - I'm just throwing that out there), but this book fell flat for me. About a third of the way into it I felt just like I did back in college when I had to read Scum by Isaac Bashevis Singer - wondering why in the world people would want to read about broken lives and sad people. Perhaps it's just me, but I don't find anything appealing in reading about people being torn apart emotionally, a single girl having an affair with a married man, a man who doesn't know if his family is dead or alive, a loveless marriage and flirtation, a mentally-ill woman who mysteriously has a child, and so on.

I don't want to be all negative though, so for my positive note I will add that the final short story, The Third and Final Continent, was as close as I got to feeling good about the book. It was nice to end with someone who made their marriage work and who found success and contentment in business and family life. Also, having traveled quite a bit around this beautiful world of ours, I appreciated the cultural aspects of the book. The way that Lahiri describes sights, smells, sounds, arranged marriages and culture gave the whole book a realistic feel. Even without ever spending time in India, much of what was talked about could be transferred to my personal experience living in various cultures.

On a slightly different note, there was one passage in the book that immediately took me back to my childhood in East Tennessee. It was actually in one of the stories I liked the least, Sexy, but it rang so true that I couldn't help but laugh.

"[...] the only Indians whom Miranda had known were a family in the neighborhood where she'd grown up, named the Dixits. [...] One year, all the neighborhood children were invited to the birthday party of the Dixit girl. Miranda remembered a heavy aroma of incense and onions in the house, and a pile of shoes heaped by the front door. [...] Still, she wondered if the actress and the Dixit girl were related. She'd been plain, wearing her hair in two braids all through high school." -- pgs. 95, 98

We had an Indian family who lived three doors down from us in the blue rental house on our street. Their surname was something like Rao (I'm pulling that out of who knows where in my memory cavity!) and the daughter's name was Rocky. I never knew if that was her real name, or just the name that she was called. Whatever the case, we would play together every so often and I would admire her two very thick, dark braids that she wore every day. If you walked by their house around dinnertime, you could smell spices and garlic - and it smelled so different from what was cooking everywhere else. It smelled wonderful and exotic. Her father never spoke to me, but her mother was nice enough and Rocky used to be allowed to come to our house to play. I had not thought about Rocky and her family in over twenty years, but when I got to the sections in this story, it all came back and I laughed out loud. So there you have it Molly, a positive!  

Overall: I just can't recommend it and my copy will be going to our used bookstore for trade credit. There were some things I liked about it (as mentioned above), but in general, it held no appeal for me. I'd give it two stars - simply for the cultural aspects and the writing. But if you want other opinions, make sure you check out the links over at Charlotte's blog on Friday (the 29th) to see what the other Book Club Bloggers thought about it!

8 comments:

  1. I don't know if you'd ever think to read it (maybe only because it was on a best seller list?) but don't ever read "The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen. I couldn't even finish it; it was so depressing. The character's lives were like bottomless pits of despair.

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  2. 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.

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  3. hello! i'm also part of the book club bloggers and i really loved your review! i don't agree with you because i actually consider it one of my favorites, but i do understand what you are saying! they are very depressing stories and at times made me feel uneasy. so it's not that i LOVE sad stories, but the way they are written is what gets me. lahiri's writing style is so elegant and smooth. it has a very "liquid" quality. i wrote in my own review how i am just in awe of how she can convey so much in such simplistic writing.

    so anyway, i loved your review because it was so different from mine, and i appreciate that! which is the whole point of the book club, to get other perspectives :)

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  4. Wow, that review surprised me and that's what I like with the bookclub - the different views. I can understand that you don't like reading about things like this, since the stories of the book also made me sad.

    But I liked that the book did not build up a "fake world" with happy ends, that in true life usually don't happen, too.

    Oh and btw the "Mashed Potatoes" book in your other post looks like a book which can make happy - so cute :-)

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  5. I also read this collection of short stories this month and what is funny is that I liked it for the very reasons you didn't like it. I think it's interesting how we are all so different like that and I love it!

    When I read a book or story, I like it to be realistic and relatable. These stories were so real because real life is hard and depressing for a lot of people a lot of the time.

    I definitely appreciate your honest review of the book. Nice to meet you!!

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  6. i like that you tell it as you see it. =) the stories are certainly all sad, and each is a tale of brokenness. would i read it again? probably not, though i'd look for the author again--because as you say, there is beauty in the writing, and life in the cultural descriptions. thanks for sharing!

    katie @ doctors terry (previously life of piefairy)

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  7. Sorry you didn't like it. But I love your honesty and the fact that it evoked SOME emotion. Even if it was distaste ;).
    I'm weird. I like sad/realistic stories. I like sad/realistic movies and sad/whiny music. I guess because sometimes life is sad and so I like art that imitates life, you know? cliche? probably. But, in the end, I'm so glad we all have different tastes. It makes for a MUCH more interesting club. :)

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  8. Also, I'm sad you won't be participating in the next book club books, but I totally understand if you feel like you need to take a step back. Whenever you want to come back, feel free!

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There are more than 400,000 words in the English language. My only request of you is this: Use them wisely.

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