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Interpreter of Maladies: Stories
by Jhumpa Lahiri

Mr. Kapasi, the protagonist of Jhumpa Lahiri's title story, would certainly have his work cut out for him if he were forced to interpret the maladies of all the characters in this eloquent debut collection. Take, for example, Shoba and Shukumar, the young couple in "A Temporary Matter" whose marriage is crumbling in the wake of a stillborn child. Or Miranda in "Sexy," who is involved in a hopeless affair with a married man. But Mr. Kapasi has problems enough of his own; in addition to his regular job working as an interpreter for a doctor who does not speak his patients' language, he also drives tourists to local sites of interest. His fare on this particular day is Mr. and Mrs. Das--first-generation Americans of Indian descent--and their children. During the course of the afternoon, Mr. Kapasi becomes enamored of Mrs. Das and then becomes her unwilling confidant when she reads too much into his profession. "I told you because of your talents," she informs him after divulging a startling secret.
I'm tired of feeling so terrible all the time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, I've been in pain eight years. I was hoping you could help me feel better; say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.
Of course, Mr. Kapasi has no cure for what ails Mrs. Das--or himself. Lahiri's subtle, bittersweet ending is characteristic of the collection as a whole. Some of these nine tales are set in India, others in the United States, and most concern characters of Indian heritage. Yet the situations Lahiri's people face, from unhappy marriages to civil war, transcend ethnicity. As the narrator of the last story, "The Third and Final Continent," comments: "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." In that single line Jhumpa Lahiri sums up a universal experience, one that applies to all who have grown up, left home, fallen in or out of love, and, above all, experienced what it means to be a foreigner, even within one's own family. --Alix Wilber



Topic: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1 of 15), Read 38 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2002 07:36 AM On the cover: "Jhumpa Lahiri is the kind of writer who makes you want to grab the next person you see and say, 'Read this!'" Amy Tan. This is exactly the feeling I had when I had finished this book. My two favorite stories were "This Blessed House" and "The Third and Final Continent." But I liked them all. It's hard to talk about a whole book of short stories at once, but I'll start off by saying that the writing is so clear and subtle that it's deceptive. Many of the stories have an underlying sadness that is not in the words, but in the spaces somehow. I had the same feeling when I read Remains of the Day. I'm not comparing styles here, although I would describe both writers with similar words. So, have you all read this yet? How do you want to proceed with the discussion? One story at a time? If we do it that way, I'll probably have to reread stories, since I shouldn't have read this as early in the month as I did, but that wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Sherry
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (2 of 15), Read 37 times Conf: Reading List From: Dottie Randall Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2002 11:30 AM Sherry -- I just found this at the American Book Center bookstore on Friday and finished it up Sunday morning. I had tried to get it while home but didn't get to a decent bookstore and so had returned without it and figured I'd skip this one -- fortunately I didn't have to miss this wonderful slender volume of stories which as you so aptly put it are filled with sadness in the spaces. I think your top two are also mine -- I really, really fell for Third and Final Continent. Am looking forward to discussing these no matter what the procedure. Dottie
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (3 of 15), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2002 12:15 PM Sherry & Dottie: The two stories you guys mention were favorites of mine, as well. I was also very fond of "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine." As you say, much between the lines in all of these. Deceptively straightforward. And wonderful bits of scene and image as well. It cracks me up to remember "The Third and Final Continent"... "A flag on the moon! Say, 'splendid!'" And the image, in "This Blessed House," of all the guests disappearing up the ladder into the attic and only his wife's shoes, "with heels like golf tees," remaining behind. What a neat examination of an "odd couple"...quiet, reserved, worrier husband and outgoing, impulsive wife. What else could she have been named but Twinkle? One thing I found surprising is that, while I thought all the stories in the volume were strong ones, I didn't like the two New Yorker pieces (including the title story, which won both the O'Henry and Best American) nearly as much as some of the others. They struck me as more...conventional? Traditional? In any event, less energy and capacity for surprise as "This Blessed House" and others. Anyway, this is an author I'm very glad to discover. My compliments to whoever nominated this one. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (4 of 15), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2002 12:28 PM Really nice little book. And what a great note it ended on. But I can see I'll have to get it out here in my office if I'm to remember which story is which. Back later. Ruth
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (5 of 15), Read 37 times Conf: Reading List From: Steve Warbasse swarbasse@iowabar.org Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2002 12:34 PM I'm still reading having finished over half the stories. So I'm in, but I don't have any bright ideas about how to proceed. Start with the first one, I guess. The one that's sticking in my mind is the last one I read--"Sexy." There is an interesting flat affect to this riff on an old theme. Playing off Miranda's own quiet affair against the melodrama she hears about from the next cubicle at work was very effective. More about it later when we get there. Steve
Topic: Interpretor of Maladies (6 of 15), Read 27 times Conf: Reading List From: Nancy Hudson nhallo@netscope.net Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2002 05:56 PM I have also forgotten many of the salient facts of each story. I read them so quickly because they were so good adn so I finished a while back. I would prefer discussing each story and then I can re-read them as we go. Nancy Current Reads--The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan ------=_NextPart_001_0013_01C1FC39.C87F35C0 Content-Type: text/html; charset="Windows-1252" Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable I =have also forgotten many of the salient facts of each story. I read them so =quickly because they were so good adn so I finished a while back. I would =prefer discussing each story and then I can re-read them as we go. Nancy Current Reads--The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan ------=_NextPart_001_0013_01C1FC39.C87F35C0--
Topic: Interpretor of Maladies (7 of 15), Read 26 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2002 09:55 PM Since I have not been able to visit Constant Reader as often I would like this year, I have to chime in now and say that my favorite story is "Mrs. Sen's". I hope that I am here when you start discussing it. There are some very sad stories, as you mentioned, Sherry. "A Real Durwan" and "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" are two that were sad. I guess Bibi turned out well in the end, but many of the stories seem to be about outcasts. Jane
Topic: Interpretor of Maladies (8 of 15), Read 27 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2002 10:39 PM Jane: Glad you can join us! "Mrs. Sen's" is a powerful piece of work, isn't it? The contrast between the boy's life with the babysitter and his life with the lonely mother was very moving for me, and that final paragraph rings like a sad, beautiful bell. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Interpretor of Maladies (9 of 15), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: Karen Slongwhite bookworm@greeneland.com Date: Thursday, May 16, 2002 09:17 AM There definitely was an edge of sadness to all of these stories. The sadness comes partially from being on the edges or outside. I think this is part of the power of the stories because most people have been on the outside looking in at least once in there lives. A lot of the sadness is also related to the dissonance between the life you consider the norm/ideal and the reality of the life you are living. I think the immigrant experience casts this in a harsh light since the norm in India is so drastically different than life in America, but I think it is something we all experience. The immigrant experience also clearly illuminates the excitement of the new coupled with the sense of loss of the old. This is another thing I think we all experience and something I have certainly been thinking about recently in conjunction with making such a drastic move in my own life. Several people here mentioned they liked "The Third and Final Continent." I also loved this story and think it is interesting that so many of us like this one. It is the story with the least amount of sadness in it. It is a story of triumph and growing into a life you love and finding the place where you fit. Placing it at the end of the book leaves us with the feeling that all the sadness and anxiety of these drastic changes might be worth it after all. Karen
Topic: Interpretor of Maladies (10 of 15), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, May 16, 2002 10:25 AM Karen: I found your note very illuminating, particularly as to how the immigrant experience can be a sort of template for where we've all been, emotionally, at some time or other. I'm reminded of a talk that Flannery O'Connor once gave...she said that after her first published short stories started to attract attention, her friends and family asked her why she didn't try writing about "a better class of people." She told them that she was only drawn to write about characters who "had all their insulation rubbed off," whether through poverty or geographical displacement or both. I think Lahiri, too, is drawn to characters with their insulation rubbed off. By the way, did you know there's a flag on the moon? Say, "Splendid!" {G} >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Interpretor of Maladies (11 of 15), Read 17 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, May 16, 2002 01:07 PM As a rule, I'm not a great fan of short stories, but this is really an exceptional collection. I just finished "Sexy" and "Mrs. Sens" - in different ways, both haunting explorations of loneliness. Jane, I can see why you liked "Mrs. Sens" so much. My heart broke for Mrs. Sens, but also for that poor little boy, who I feel quite certain would much have preferred staying with Mrs. Sens to going home alone to that deserted beach front house every day after school. The author is an equal opportunity dispenser of loneliness. The mother has a male acquaintance who spends the night - once. There seems to be no physical bond between the husband and Mrs. Sens. They don't touch even when their picture is taken, but only smile with their mouths closed. With small details like these, Lahiri conveys a great deal of information about her characters.
Topic: Interpretor of Maladies (12 of 15), Read 16 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Thursday, May 16, 2002 02:59 PM And that knife! There was a whole lot of chopping going on. (Way more than needed to feed two people, methinks.) What's the significance of that knife? Ruth
Topic: Interpretor of Maladies (13 of 15), Read 14 times Conf: Reading List From: Dale Short dshort@bham.rr.com Date: Thursday, May 16, 2002 03:28 PM Ann writes, Lahiri is an equal opportunity dispenser of loneliness... I agree. One reason I admire these stories so much is that, unlike some other fiction on the theme of immigrants, there's no agenda here that I can see. There's only what Faulkner described as "the human heart in conflict with itself." Good for Lahiri. Ruth: Whole lotta choppin' going on, indeed. I thought I had seen a pretty good variety of ethnic food being prepared, but this magical knife and its apparatus is new to me. In fact, I came to lust for one. Maybe that's a clue. Was the knife an outlet for Mrs. Sen's passion? Was cooking fish another outlet? Was keeping the boy another? If so, then we're seeing circumstance take away her outlets, one by one. Could she have "overcome" it all, or was the deck stacked against her? The scene where they're asked to leave the bus because of the fish smell was surprisingly affecting for me. What a comedown, from just a few weeks before. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: Interpretor of Maladies (14 of 15), Read 7 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, May 16, 2002 07:11 PM I wondered why she was doing all that chopping on newspapers in the living room, instead of in the kitchen, and I had some trouble picturing this magic knife. I figured it was some kind of Indian implement that I had never seen. Dale, I think Mrs. Sen needed the boy even more than he needed her. Can you imagine the loneliness and horrible isolation she felt trapped in that apartment all day by herself? I think the fish was so significant because of the connection to home. Fish was the staple of her diet in her country, and it reminded her of everything she was missing. It was her husband's choice to live in a foreign country, not hers, and there didn't seem to be any benefits for her in living in a foreign country. He was aiming for tenure, so it wasn't going to be a temporary situation either. I don't see much hope for this woman. Getting pregnant might give her life some focus, but barring that, she appears headed straight for a complete breakdown - which might at least get her home. On the other hand, she did have that very, very sharp knife. Ann
Topic: Interpretor of Maladies (15 of 15), Read 6 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Thursday, May 16, 2002 07:13 PM I agree, Ann. Not a hopeful story. And I couldn't picture this knife, either. I'll ask an Indian friend of mine. Ruth
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (16 of 38), Read 43 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Thursday, May 16, 2002 10:50 PM There's an interesting interview with Lahiri from Newsweek International at http://www.umiacs.umd.edu/users/sawweb/sawnet/books/patel_lahiri.html She has this to say about Mrs. Sen: "Mrs Sen is based on my mother who babysat in our home. I saw her one way but imagined that an American child may see her differently, reacting with curiosity, fascination, or fear to the things I took for granted." My sister had an Indian babysitter for her kids when they were very young, but unlike Mrs. Sen, this woman was happy and outgoing. The kids loved her. Lahiri also made this comment about the significance of the title and a common thread in her stories: Interviewer: "Do you see yourself as the interpreter of our maladies of belonging?" Lahiri: "It's not a role I contemplated but the title haunted me for years. The characters I'm drawn to all face some barrier of communication. I like to write about people who think in a way they can't fully express. Growing up in two countries, I see things in a way that not everyone around me can. I'd talk to my cousins about what life's like in America and explain, describe, show pictures and still know that they'll never get it because they haven't been here. Talking to Americans about India is the same-it's always partial. As a storyteller, I'm aware that there are limitations in communication."
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (17 of 38), Read 41 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Friday, May 17, 2002 07:44 AM Thanks for that link, Ann. I liked the line: "The ink hasn't dried yet on our lives here." Sherry
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (18 of 38), Read 40 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Friday, May 17, 2002 10:51 AM I still have one more story to read, and then I'm done. Dale, I'm with you..I want one of those knives! I think Mrs. Sens sat on the floor because she probably did that in India..she was trying very hard to hold on to the traditions she lived as a child..maybe as a way to feel closer to her family in India. She seemed to have put so much importance onto fresh fish. I doubt it was the fish itself, that mattered, but what it symbolized for her. Beej
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (19 of 38), Read 42 times, 1 File Attachment Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, May 17, 2002 11:26 AM One Indian knife, coming up. Here's the explanation and picture I received from my Indian friend, Amulya Malladi, who incidentally has a novel coming out next month, called A Breath of Fresh Air: Okay here is how the knife is (I just described it in a book of mine so I am fresh with ideas of how to put this), it has a wooden base and a knife is embedded into it. When you need to use the knife you pull the wooden base against your feet and you lift the embedded knife from the middle of the base to stand upright. (Therefore the Viking ship analogy, it looks a sail while the knife base is the boat). You can then cut vegetable by holding something with both hands and sliding it through the knife. This is, I believed quite a South Indian knife, I am surprised Lahiri used it because she is Bengali…I guess they have the same knives we do. I am sending a rough diagram to help you. Amulya Ruth
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (20 of 38), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: Steve Warbasse swarbasse@iowabar.org Date: Friday, May 17, 2002 02:46 PM Thanks for the research, Ruthie. I very much liked "Mrs. Sen's," too. However, any attempt by me to use such a knife in my own kitchen would inevitably have tragic results. Steve
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (21 of 38), Read 38 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Friday, May 17, 2002 02:50 PM Ruth, now I REALLY want one of those knives! I want to see my kids' faces when they walk into the kitchen and see me cutting carrots with my feet. Beej
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (22 of 38), Read 39 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Friday, May 17, 2002 02:53 PM That knife seems like a vegetable version of a paper cutter. What a good idea. I like the idea of cutting carrots with your feet. Sherry
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (23 of 38), Read 39 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Friday, May 17, 2002 03:09 PM Sherry, I do think it would be beneficial to discuss a story at a time, beginning with the first. Or at random..doesn't really matter in what order, as long as we stick to one story at a time. Beej
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (24 of 38), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Friday, May 17, 2002 08:20 PM Thank your friend for us, Ruth. Now I can understand how she could cut things on the floor, although I'm still not sure how the feet are involved. Ann
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (25 of 38), Read 35 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Friday, May 17, 2002 08:45 PM I guess you use the feet to keep the whole shebang from sliding around. However, I've invited Amulya to join us, and she tells me she's planning on showing up soon. You can ask her then. Ruth
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (26 of 38), Read 31 times Conf: Reading List From: Nancy Hudson nhallo@netscope.net Date: Saturday, May 18, 2002 04:37 PM I had sent a reply to this post yesterday but never saw it come across in email and now I see it is not here on the site either so I will repeat. I also think we should discuss a story at a time. It will lead to more discussion and will be more interesting as we can re-read the story and remember more to comment on. I would like this. Thanks. Nancy On 05/17/2002 3:09:19 PM, Beej Connor wrote: >Sherry, I do think it would be >beneficial to discuss a story >at a time, beginning with the >first. Or at random..doesn't >really matter in what order, >as long as we stick to one >story at a time. > >Beej
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies--A Temporary Matter (27 of 38), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 09:56 AM A Temporary Matter This is one of the sad stories. The title seems ironic, since Shoba’s and Shukumar’s situation is anything but temporary. Do you think that the two main characters have anything in common other than being Indian-American? They obviously loved each other once, but their joint tragedy causes them to hide from each other so deeply that their despair seems inextricable. I had hopes that the candlelit dinner would bring them together, and it did, but for surprising, and not happy, reasons. Lahiri’s use of language adds so much to the underlying feeling of the story. "Shoba took her plate to the living room and watched game shows, or proofread files with her arsenal of colored pencils at hand." Now who would think of using "arsenal" to describe a bunch of colored pencils? That word slips by, but all the while insinuating that Shoba uses her work as a defense against feeling, as a defense against her husband. Sherry
Topic: A Temporary Matter (28 of 38), Read 40 times Conf: Reading List From: Nancy Hudson nhallo@netscope.net Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 10:06 AM This is actually one of my favorite stories in the bunch, despite it's sadness. I found myself hoping, too, that the darkness which allowed Shuba and Shukumar to communicate once again would lead to their eventual healing as a couple. I was quite shocked to see that it was a set-up by Shuba to find a way to tell her husband she was leaving him. But then, as they say, be careful what you ask for, you might get it.. Her husband tells her something that she never expected to hear, something even more hurtful. My question is this--do you think they actually do separate, or do you think that by finally being able to discuss the death of their baby, they come together again? I didn't think the ending necessarily made that clear. There were signs of hope throughout the story. Was Shuba already beyond the point of changing her mind? Nancy Current Reads--The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
Topic: A Temporary Matter (29 of 38), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 02:18 PM I read no hope at all in the ending, beyond the idea that all experience leads to learning, and they have learned something by what they've been through. This was probably my least favorite of the stories. Not because it was sad, but because I found it rather ordinary. In the sense that it was like many other stories I've read about how a tragedy like losing a child can alter a relationship forever. The other stories in the book I found more engaging, simply because they took me to places I hadn't been so many times before. Ruth
Topic: RE: A Temporary Matter (30 of 38), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: Nancy Hudson nhallo@netscope.net Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 02:58 PM I also liked the other stories very much, but this one struck a chord in me. I know the ideas underlying it are ordinary, but that was also it's strength. The title, A Temporary Matter, is one of the things I find interesting because it lends itself to interpretation as well. Besides the obvious period of time that the electricity is shut off temporarily, which gives Shoba a window of opportunity, there is also the idea that perhaps this entire period of alienation between Shoba and Shukumar is a temporary thing, something that can be overcome with love and understanding and communication. I find it perfectly believable that upon forcing themselves to talk and share the things they knew and had kept from each other that they come to the realization that their relationship is worth salvaging. Tragedy often brings people today, just as it can tear them apart. My optimistic attitude is that the alienation they felt, largely on the part of Shukumar, is something that was temporary and that they were able to heal the wounds. The last sentence, "they wept together, for the things they now knew" is for me, at least, an indication that for once in a very long time they were able to share something together and experience something together and that this could be construed as the start of a new life. I can also see how the opposite interpretation may be just as valid, though. So, like a good story writer, she leaves it to the imagination. Nancy Nancy Current Reads--The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan -----Original Message----- From: readReadingList Listmanager [mailto:listmanager@webboardhost.com] Sent: Sunday, May 19, 2002 1:19 PM To: Recipients of 'readReadingList' suppressed Subject: A Temporary Matter From: "R Bavetta" I read no hope at all in the ending, beyond the idea that all experience leads to learning, and they have learned something by what they've been through. This was probably my least favorite of the stories. Not because it was sad, but because I found it rather ordinary. In the sense that it was like many other stories I've read about how a tragedy like losing a child can alter a relationship forever. The other stories in the book I found more engaging, simply because they took me to places I hadn't been so many times before. Ruth To reply: mailto:readReadingList.371221@webboardhost.com To start a new topic: mailto:readReadingList@webboardhost.com To login: http://webboardhost.com:8080/~reader/
Topic: A Temporary Matter (31 of 38), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 03:03 PM I have to say I saw no hope either. Not unless there were some serious changes in their basic personalities. Nothing in the story made me think that either of them would be willing to make those changes. Shoba had been such a highly productive and controlling person (just look at all the possibilities she planned for, with her food supplies and her extra toothbrushes). But this tragedy couldn't be controlled or planned and all the colored pencils in the world can't get her out of it. Maybe facing the tragedy and allowing herself to really experience what she's obviously been trying to avoid will make a difference. But it's a leap. Sherry
Topic: A Temporary Matter (33 of 38), Read 33 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 03:12 PM Nancy, we were posting simultaneously. You make a good point with the way the story ended (I only reread the beginning to reacquaint myself). And the title can be a useful clue, if you it's seen as not totally ironic. I hope you're right. Leaving it unresolved does make in a more interesting story. Sherry
Topic: FW: A Temporary Matter (32 of 38), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: Nancy Hudson nhallo@netscope.net Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 03:04 PM I also liked the other stories very much, but this one struck a chord in me. I know the ideas underlying it are ordinary, but that was also it's strength. The title, A Temporary Matter, is one of the things I find interesting because it lends itself to interpretation as well. Besides the obvious period of time that the electricity is shut off temporarily, which gives Shoba a window of opportunity, there is also the idea that perhaps this entire period of alienation between Shoba and Shukumar is a temporary thing, something that can be overcome with love and understanding and communication. I find it perfectly believable that upon forcing themselves to talk and share the things they knew and had kept from each other that they come to the realization that their relationship is worth salvaging. Tragedy often brings people today, just as it can tear them apart. My optimistic attitude is that the alienation they felt, largely on the part of Shukumar, is something that was temporary and that they were able to heal the wounds. The last sentence, "they wept together, for the things they now knew" is for me, at least, an indication that for once in a very long time they were able to share something together and experience something together and that this could be construed as the start of a new life. I can also see how the opposite interpretation may be just as valid, though. So, like a good story writer, she leaves it to the imagination. Nancy Nancy Current Reads--The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan -----Original Message----- From: readReadingList Listmanager [mailto:listmanager@webboardhost.com] Sent: Sunday, May 19, 2002 1:19 PM To: Recipients of 'readReadingList' suppressed Subject: A Temporary Matter From: "R Bavetta" I read no hope at all in the ending, beyond the idea that all experience leads to learning, and they have learned something by what they've been through. This was probably my least favorite of the stories. Not because it was sad, but because I found it rather ordinary. In the sense that it was like many other stories I've read about how a tragedy like losing a child can alter a relationship forever. The other stories in the book I found more engaging, simply because they took me to places I hadn't been so many times before. Ruth To reply: mailto:readReadingList.371221@webboardhost.com To start a new topic: mailto:readReadingList@webboardhost.com To login: http://webboardhost.com:8080/~reader/
Topic: FW: A Temporary Matter (34 of 38), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 09:41 PM This wasn't my favorite story, but I liked it. I thought that Lahiri did a good job showing how we each get locked in our own world and are unable to reach out to eachother. It is kind like saying, "I would rather die that let anyone break through my shell of misery." Nancy, I thought your note expressed very well what I was hoping would happen at the end. I thought that the fact that they wept together was significant. But Lahiri left it up in the air. Isn't that the way life is? Jane
Topic: FW: A Temporary Matter (35 of 38), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 01:18 PM Perhaps because I'm a pessimist, I didn't see any hope for their relationship at the end. Furthermore, I thought the breakup was a positive thing. Their wounds couldn't heal while they were together and constantly reminded of their loss. I also thought the truth game they were playing in the dark was very dangerous for any future happiness. People remember those moments of candor and resent them later. Communication is good, but a lot of things are better left said. Ann, who has a hard time remembering this in real life
Topic: FW: A Temporary Matter (36 of 38), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 03:42 PM I got the impression that Shoba was not only bitter that Shukumar was at the academic conference (something he did not want to attend, and only went on her insistence) when she went into premature labor, but that she seemed to hold him responsible for her early delivery. Even so, how I ached for Shoba when Shukumar admitted that he had known the gender of the baby. I just felt it was such a low blow. After that, how could there be any hope for this couple? Beej
Topic: Re: A Temporary Matter (37 of 38), Read 20 times Conf: Reading List From: Nancy Hudson nhallo@netscope.net Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 06:47 PM Well, I can understand your feelings, but if she were to look at it from his perspective, knowing her feelings at the time, I think she could over-come that. At least, if she really loved him, she could. I don't know. There may have been other problems there. Maybe she was just too jealous of Shukumar to make it work. We don't know that much about these people, but it sounded to me like Shukumar was the one who gave up a lot after the loss of the baby. I felt more for Shukumar who I felt was being treated unfairly. Nancy ----- Original Message ----- From: readReadingList Listmanager To: Sent: Monday, May 20, 2002 2:43 PM Subject: FW: A Temporary Matter > From: "Beej Connor" > > I got the impression that Shoba was not only bitter that Shukumar was at the academic conference (something he did not want to attend, and only went on her insistence) when she went into premature labor, but that she also seemed to hold him responsible for her early delivery. > > Even so, how I ached for Shoba when Shukumar admitted that he had known the gender of the baby. I just felt it was such a low blow. After that, how could there be any hope for this couple? > > Beej > > > > To reply: mailto:readReadingList.371579@webboardhost.com > To start a new topic: mailto:readReadingList@webboardhost.com > To login: http://webboardhost.com:8080/~reader/
Topic: Re: A Temporary Matter (38 of 38), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 10:34 PM Nancy, I felt more sympathy for the husband too. It didn't seem like he could do anything right as far as his wife was concerned. He was also dependent on her financially, so the breakup would probably be tough for him, although maybe healthier in the long run since he seemed to spend most of his time avoiding work on his dissertation..
Topic: Mr. Pirzada (39 of 51), Read 49 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2002 09:50 PM I think that it is time to change stories. This was one of my favorite stories. I loved the pumpkin carving session that the girl had with Mr. Pirzada. The girl seemed to be a substitute for his own daughters, and he filled an empty spot in her heart. The story is also a good commentary about the split of India. Lilia says: "It made no sense to me. Mr. Pirzada and my parents spoke the same language, laughed at the same jokes, looked more or less the same." She goes on to mention other similarities. Jane
Topic: Mr. Pirzada (40 of 51), Read 41 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 06:29 AM I really liked this one too. I especially liked that he found his seven daughters in the end. I haven't reread this one yet, but your description of it reminded me of several details. I think this is a very gentle anti-war story. Why should people with such similarities hate each other? Sherry
Topic: Mr. Pirzada (41 of 51), Read 41 times Conf: Reading List From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 09:21 AM I agree: a lovely story. Mr. Pirzada represented decency and integrity in the most subtle but powerful way. It was very believable that Lilia missed him so much. A great anti-war statement. Robt
Topic: Mr. Pirzada (42 of 51), Read 39 times Conf: Reading List From: Lynn Isvik washualum@yahoo.com Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 10:45 AM I liked the way Lahiri represented the entire issue through a child's eyes. Lilia was only aware of the things that had impact on her life. On second thought, I'm that way too a lot of the time, so maybe it isn't limited to a child's point of view. The use of that POV is helpful in pointing out the limitations of our own thinking as well. Lynn
Topic: Re: A TEMPORARY MATTER (43 of 51), Read 36 times Conf: Reading List From: Edward Houghton eddh@pacbell.net Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 01:39 PM I thought that Shoba and Shukumar were not sure if they were still in love, but also not sure if they were not. I think it hinged more on sharing than the old standard communicating. I think their moment of truth is when Shoba learns that Shukumar has actually held the child. As a mother, Shoba carried the baby alone; an ability she could not share. The father cannot share until the child reaches the outside world. They shared in the creation, both held the child until they had to give it up. Now, having shared the sorrow of holding their child, they have a chance of going on with their lives. EDD
Topic: No Topic (44 of 51), Read 38 times Conf: Reading List From: Nancy Hudson nhallo@netscope.net Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 01:45 PM >Love that thought. Why didn't I think of it? LOL! Good one. It gives me even more hope that they decide to stay together. Shoba needed to realize that she was being selfish and Shukumar needed to realize that communicating his needs and thoughts were also important. If anything, it is more a slap in Shoba's face, but it could be a wake-up slap. Nancy From: "Edward Houghton" > > I thought that Shoba and Shukumar were not sure if they were still in love, but also not sure if they were not. I think it hinged more on sharing than the old standard communicating. I think their moment of truth is when Shoba learns that Shukumar has actually held the child. As a mother, Shoba carried the baby alone; an ability she could not share. The father cannot share until the child reaches the outside world. They shared in the creation, both held the child until they had to give it up. Now, having shared the sorrow of holding their child, they have a chance of going on with their lives. > > EDD > > > >To reply: mailto:readReadingList.372471@webboardhost.com >To start a new topic: mailto:readReadingList@webboardhost.com >To login: http://webboardhost.com:8080/~reader/ > http://www.netscope.net
Topic: Mr. Pirzada (45 of 51), Read 40 times Conf: Reading List From: Edward Houghton eddh@pacbell.net Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 01:59 PM I didn't get a big anti-war message out of this story. Mr Pirzada was a good family man who happened to be far from his family. He has a social relationship with another man from the same country. Mr Pirzada is filling the void in his life with a family environment and talk of home. They are both far from the actual conflict. They are not subject to peer pressure, or even the local propaganda that fills a country during these upheavals. Mr Pirzada's relationship with the family is reminiscent of those that we have with fellow workers, or fellow students. They work in a certain environment but do not necessarily sustain throughout life. Some only work in that particular environment and could not work anywhere else. All those people from school, that we talked and played with; where are they now? Do we make the effort? The people we played noon chess with? Great at the chess board, but not life long friends. Mr Pirzada's real world was home with his daughters. While Lilia thought him to be a friend, to him, Lilia was only a surrogate daughter in his surrogate family. EDD
Topic: Mr. Pirzada (46 of 51), Read 29 times Conf: Reading List From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 09:41 PM Edd, I loved your point about A TEMPORARY MATTER. I don't agree about MR. PIRZADA. I think Lahiri was telling us that even though Lilia's family was from India and Mr. Pirzada was from Pakistan, they were much alike. If they had been in India/Pakistan, they would not have been able to socialize because of hatred. I remember reading a story about two professional basketball players from the NBA. They were both from Czechoslovakia (from opposing sides), and while the country was united, they were good friends. As soon as the country split, they found reasons to hate each other. Lilia's family and Mr. Pirzada have enough sense to know that they can still be friends. Jane
Topic: Mr. Pirzada (47 of 51), Read 33 times Conf: Reading List From: Ann Davey davey@tconl.com Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 11:07 PM Because Mr. Pirzada was a Moslem and the family he visited were Hindus, I found their friendship somewhat surprising, but heartening. Maybe I've been reading too many stories in the news about these two groups setting fire to each other in modern day India. One of the things that really struck me about the story was that the little girl heard absolutely nothing about the events that were so important to her family in school, where she was learning how to be a good little American. There was really a dichotomy between her home life and her school life. I think maybe schools are improving, but traditionally American kids have learned far too little about the rest of the world. Ann
Topic: Mr. Pirzada (48 of 51), Read 28 times Conf: Reading List From: Robert Armstrong rla@nac.net Date: Thursday, May 23, 2002 09:29 AM Ann, Point well taken about our education of other countries. This story is pertinent right now as things heat up between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Robt
Topic: Mr. Pirzada (49 of 51), Read 15 times Conf: Reading List From: Sheila Ash sheila_ash@lineone.net Date: Saturday, May 25, 2002 12:22 PM Gosh, this is good isn't it? What can I add to the discussions already on A Temporary Matter and Mr Pirzada? Well, A Temporary Matter really got to me, and on reflection I think it was less per se to do with the fact that they had lost a baby, but more to do with Lahiri's amazing understanding of relationship disintegration, whatever the cause. The gentle yet cutting hurt found within breaking marriages, the games played in order to get to the point of breaking the news of leaving. I think they had once loved each other very deeply, now no longer, but what did remain was a real feeling for each other which made it not a straightforward thing to walk out, without a word. She couldn't just go, there were certain things that had to be put to rest...the things they now knew. In Mr Pirzada I liked the way Lahiri opens up the world for the young girl, as she discovers the differences and the scope of life - USA, Bangladesh, famlies togther and apart. Dare I start on Interpreter of Maladies? Lahiri has a great turn of word and the title is an example of that. I woudl not have know what this meant before reading this story but it is so apt and fits perfectly. She strings you along with this story...yes we all know that Mr Kapasi's correspondence with Mrs Dal is never going to happen, but I did not anticipate how. Sheila
Topic: Mr. Pirzada (50 of 51), Read 5 times Conf: Reading List From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, May 26, 2002 10:16 AM Oh, thank goodness, I made it here before the discussion got too far ahead of me! I'm a huge fan of the art of the short story and this collection is a perfect example of that art. In "A Temporary Matter", I thought Lahiri caught a crucial element of the disintegration of a marriage. People who have long histories together, who have shared the kind of pain that Shoba and Shukumar experienced don't always end marriages in an atmosphere of hate and yelling. Sometimes, there's a sad affection which is almost more painful. The death of the baby caused them both to build up emotional insulation from which they couldn't emerge, for each other, at least. They still, however, have this bond that goes beyond friendship but isn't what they seem to need. I agree with Ruth that this is a situation often explored in fiction but Lahiri's illustration of this particular aspect intrigued me. In "Mr. Pirzada", I was most struck by how ignorant the people around Lilia were of these events that threatened to rob Mr. Pirzada of all he found most precious in life. Maybe because I'm a teacher, I was appalled at the constant retelling of the American story each year when the world is so rich with other history and contemporary events. I tend to think that the smugness of that attitude is part of our problem today in our relationships with other cultures. Barb
Topic: RE: Mr. Pirzada (51 of 51), Read 3 times Conf: Reading List From: Nancy Hudson nhallo@netscope.net Date: Sunday, May 26, 2002 11:50 AM I have a few comments to make about Mr. Pirzada as well. First of all, I agree with Barb that one of the points Lahiri makes so well in this story is that there is a great deal of cultural blindness here in the US, a distancing from the rest of the world. It is sort of ironic how this has changed somewhat since 9-11 in that we are, as a country, more informed and interested in what goes on on the other side of the world, and we are more invested in how conflicts are resolved, such as in the Middle East and Afghanistan, also now between India and Pakistan. Though I am sure that there are still many Americans who couldn't tell you one thing about these conflicts--those are probably in the minority and certainly not representative of the majority of Americans these days, I would think. I think this portrayal was a little heavy-handed on the part of Lahiri, for example when the teacher treats the book on Asia that Lillia picks up in the library as some kind of vermin, but I think the basic idea is valid. I wonder if this is something that Lahiri sees as peculiarly American. I agree with Barb that this attitude on the part of Americans, which seems to be somewhat exacerbated by Bush policies, does affect in a negative fashion how other countries view us. The other point that is made is how people who can be considered as enemies can still be friends and treat each other as equals when placed in circumstances where their differences don't matter. The similarities between Lilia's family and Mr. Pirzada outweigh the differences here in America, especially when both sides are needy. Lilia's family wanted the company of people of like culture, they felt isolated. Mr. Pirzada needed the family to keep him sane during this period besides the obvious needs for food and news that the family was able to provide him. I found it interesting though how Lilia's father wanted to ensure that the differences between them were kept intact, at least intellectually. He corrected Lilia when she called Mr. Pirzada Indian and also made sure she understood what was going on in India and why. Does this reflect his pride, his prejudices? How is he different from his wife? Nancy Nancy Current Reads--The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
Topic: RE: Mr. Pirzada (52 of 54), Read 26 times Conf: Reading List From: Dean Denis dddenis@telus.net Date: Sunday, May 26, 2002 12:35 PM Barb said: "...there is a great deal of cultural blindness here in the US, a distancing from the rest of the world." This brings me to a peeve which I have had for some time. It is the fact that US national weather maps which I see on television and in newspapers never show Canada and Mexico. These maps are graphic representations of US isolation. I know of no other country which shows itself this way and it strikes me as a daily contradiction that the US is more acknowledging of other countries. I think that the media are doing a disservice to Americans by not showing a complete map. Dean All roads lead to roam.
Topic: RE: Mr. Pirzada (53 of 54), Read 25 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, May 26, 2002 01:18 PM Carrying that thought a little further--and they always stand in front of California. Back to Mr. Pirzada. This was not my favorite story in the book. And I can't quite say why. Perhaps because her agenda was a bit obvious? Ruth
Topic: RE: Mr. Pirzada (54 of 54), Read 1 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Monday, May 27, 2002 01:54 PM I wasn't entranced by Mr. Pirzada either, Ruth, it just sort of sat there (in my head) without conjuring anything. There was certainly nothing especially Pulitzer about it. And almost ditto for A Temporary Matter, except that there was no denying that Lahiri knows her way around a short story after reading that one. It was after these two that Lahiri grabbed me, and compelled me to read the next and the next and so on. Tonya

Topic: RE: Mr. Pirzada (55 of 59), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Monday, May 27, 2002 03:33 PM Same here, Tonya. I wonder why she chose to start the collection with those. Do you suppose she thought they'd be more appealing to most American readers? Or maybe this was the editor's/publisher's choice. Ruth
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (56 of 59), Read 16 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Tuesday, May 28, 2002 11:30 AM I can't think why; it is not the choice I'd make. I'd probably start with more of a wallop, and mix these two in between stronger stuff. So, on to Interpreter of Maladies, then? Here is part of Konarak, showing the wheels that were mentioned, where Mr. Kapasi took the Das family first:
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (57 of 59), Read 18 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Tuesday, May 28, 2002 11:43 AM And this is Udayagiri, their second stop: I wanted a picture of the incline they went up, but didn't find that. In fact I couldn't find a photo that included monkeys, too bad! That monkey scene was a fine ending.
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (58 of 59), Read 17 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Tuesday, May 28, 2002 12:01 PM Thanks, Tonya. And is that the Das family standing there by the wheel? Somehow this story reminded me of E.M. Forster's Passage to India. I just went and looked it up, and the seminal incident in that one took place not here, but at the Marabar Caves. Still, there's something here that puts Forster's book strongly in mind. Can anyone help me out? Ruth
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (59 of 59), Read 1 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Wednesday, May 29, 2002 11:49 AM That can't be the Das family, or you'd see the little strawberry on her shirt. I was amused and puzzled by the frequent references to that strawberry. And her bag! Lordy, what did she not have in there?! (This couple reminded me too much of my own parents, who never got along all that well, and always bickered though vacations. Ugh!) Anyway, it's just typical, isn't it, how he indulges his fantasy about her until she confesses to already being that kind of woman!
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (60 of 61), Read 34 times Conf: Reading List From: Mary Anne Papale mapreads@hotmail.com Date: Wednesday, May 29, 2002 08:51 PM It seemed like Mrs. Das was going to continue to pout her way through the vacation until she found something, like Mr. Kapasi's other job, that she could hang on to. It's as though she was saying "See, I can be charming and engaging, but my family just doesn't appreciate me." She was in a classic passive-aggressive mode. I think Lahiri captures that, and other kinds of very human behavior so well. Experience is by industry achieved, and perfected by the swift course of time. - W. Shakespeare MAP
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies (61 of 61), Read 1 times Conf: Reading List From: Tonya Presley t-pr@attbi.com Date: Friday, May 31, 2002 09:59 AM I thought her malady was real, and Mr. Kapasi got it in one. The curious thing, to me, is how she could know Bobby resulted from that one afternoon encounter? Surely nobody can reasonably attribute a pregnancy to a specific day, unless there isn't any other sexual activity happening around the same time. In which case Raj would know, too, that it wasn't his son. I guess I wonder if she wanted it that way, because she hates the motherhood thing, the way Raj comes home and watches tv, all that stuff. She was mad that he allowed the other man to stay with them. Did her believing Bobby to be the other guy's son serve as payback in her mind? But then it's a Pyrrhic victory when the secrecy and the guilt of it keeps her in pain. I felt sorry for her at the end, although I never did during all her misbehaving along the way. Tonya
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies -- A Real Durwan (1 of 4), Read 32 times Conf: Reading List From: Sherry Keller shkell@starband.net Date: Thursday, June 06, 2002 07:15 AM We kind of lost our momentum on these when we moved boards. I haven't reread "A Real Durwan" but I think I remember it enough to talk about it. This is one of the few stories that takes place entirely in India, and if I remember correctly, no one is from another country -- but there is displacement. The story line reminded me of people and situations in A Fine Balance. People are living in small often outdoor spaces, there is poverty beyond belief. What do you all think of the residents' attitude of Boori Ma? What happened to her? Sherry
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies -- A Real Durwan (2 of 4), Read 24 times Conf: Reading List From: Nancy Hudson nhallo@netscope.net Date: Saturday, June 08, 2002 08:11 PM I am sure glad to find out that the reason I wasn't getting emails was because of the switch. I knew nothing about it until I went to the website.Probably a good reason to post there rather in email. Anyway, I will have to re-read this story, since so much time has passed I have forgotten a lot of the salient features. I also haven't started the next book. Am trying to catch up with all my reading.
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies -- A Real Durwan (3 of 4), Read 23 times Conf: Reading List From: Sheila Ash sheila_ash@lineone.net Date: Sunday, June 09, 2002 05:51 AM I wrote the following down a couple of weeks ago when I read A Real Durwan so that I wouldn't forget my first impressions when we came round to discuss it. The rains came here this lunch time and interrupted my gardening, so I sat down with a cup of tea and read this short story. Rather poignantly where it tells of Boori Ma not remembering her last cup of tea, there was I sitting enjoying mine! I love the characters Lahiri portrays, she says so much with so little. You feel you know all the occupants of this stair, this little community and its position in Indian society. I don't know whether Boori Ma's past was as illustrious as she painted but it was undoubtedly better than she had even at the start of the story else she would probably not have reached the ripe old age of 64. When I was reading this it made me recall some of the writings of Naguib Mafhouz, who also has this characteristics of being able to describe character and atmosphere in one go, and give you an incredible sense of understanding of the foreign places, cultures and lifestyles he is writing about. Sheila
Topic: Interpreter of Maladies -- A Real Durwan (4 of 4), Read 22 times Conf: Reading List From: R Bavetta rbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, June 09, 2002 12:27 PM This was one of my favorites, and for just the reasons Sheila cited. The characters were so real. I, too, wondered about Boori Ma's background, and if she was making it all up. But I decided it didn't much matter. If it's all fabricated, I think Boori Ma has told it so many times that she has convinced even herself. Ruth

 

 
Jhumpa Lahiri
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