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.
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!