Book Review

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies

Somehow managed to squeeze time to read a book into my somewhat packed schedule and frankly I am unable to articulate what I feel after finishing the book. My friend, Tanuja saw my Facebook update, thanks to Goodreads.com and almost immediately commented that this book was melancholy at its subtlest best (or something very similar).

A good book is expected to make you turn the pages automatically and this one certainly did that without a fuss. So far, I was used to reading books or watching movies with at least one emotion that gets exaggerated during the time the reading or viewing is experienced. Anger, love, relief, frustration, helplessness, despair, friendship, respect, hatred, revenge etc are some of the terms that I can quickly rattle of to describe different reactions that you experience yourself or see others express as a reaction to whatever is the verbal or visual stimulus. And then you have Interpreter of Maladies! This is where Jhumpa Lahiri goes about playing with words in a very simple yet graceful way. The band within which she writes about relationships and emotions never reaches a point where there is the slightest hint of an exaggerated emotion spike. Even a regular ECG chart is supposed to show some ups and downs to indicate that everything is normal. But story after story, page after page that spike never happens in this book. The question then is: what made me so desperate to somehow squeeze time to read the book?

There is no correct answer frankly.

When virtuoso performers subtly play with the violin strings, it is not what they play that alone reaches your ears, but what they could have played that leaves you stunned.  Restrained acting is another related phrase used to describe subtle expressions.  A good chef uses ingredients that are supposed to tease your taste buds. The tongue is tricked to send confusing signals to the brain, so much so that an experienced connoisseur also finds it difficult to unlock the recipe of the dish. That is how the author plays with your mind. When she talks about the protagonist from the story after which the book is titled, you just keep reading and slowly the story ends … just like that! Then another story, an entirely different one, with an equally captivating flow that also highlights her eye for detail brings out yet another reaction from you. It manages to do by giving a different nerve somewhere else in your nervous system a very gentle and careful nudge. This keeps happening when she talks about a 103 year old American lady or a small girl visiting India along with her parents or of course while talking about the various thoughts that go through the minds of Indians in the US or UK, a bachelor’s mindset, a newlywed bride who leaves everything behind to be with her husband, a women’s fear to drive a car when abroad and reluctance to get a driving license or even the all too familiar Bengali love for fish: across the book the way relationship nuances have been explored is very different from the way we are used to how relationships are shown. Her work goes on to give a new meaning to the word ‘subtle’. This work is deliberately muted but optimal in its muteness, but it is celebration nevertheless. Jhumpa has achieved the impossible task of bringing about a wild celebration that is grand but devoid of the fundamentals of ceremony. It is a never before seen celebration of melancholy and the myriad possibilities and permutations & combinations of relationship dynamics. I must have failed in my review because mine is a chhoti muh badi baath in this context, but I am really satisfied I tried to take on a challenging task to write the review of this book and have knocked it off my things to do after I finished reading it last evening.

I shall end with a few adjectives that http://www.thesaurus.com showed as synonyms of subtle. Somewhere each story can be described using one or more of these terms: exquisite, faint, indirect, ingenious, profound, slight, sophisticated, understated, attenuate, attenuated, deep, ethereal, fine, finespun, implied, inconspicuous, indistinct, inferred, insinuated, mental, penetrating, refined, suggestive, and tenuous.

Go ahead and enjoy if you already haven’t read it before!

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