Navigating between the Indian traditions they've inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri's elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In "A Temporary Matter," published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighbourhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant.
I had bought this book in 2009 and had read it promptly. But after nearly a decade I remembered just a couple of plots. Though the endings were faint in my memory, it didn't fail to awe and entertain me in spite of it.
All the stories are about Bengalis, who are now Non resident Indians in the USA or in West Bengal. Every story makes us wonder of the human emotions, in each and every situation. The first story of a couple dealing with the aftermath of the loss of their child and crumbling marriage moistened my eyes, the second gave me a relief just like Lilia, the third made me judgemental about Mina at first then came sympathy for the woman who will live with guilt all her life. Some had endings like Miranda's life in 'Sexy' and the marriage of the new couple in 'this blessed house' where they had to live with their decisions. Three out of the nine chapters are set in India itself.
But my personal favourite was the third and final continent. It reflected my initial days of marriage in a very similar way, when I had to move to the US. I now think if my husband had adjusted to me the same way, with reluctance then and with ease now, understanding my every move. I think this the very nature of arranged marriage we Indians are so accustomed to.
One can easily comprehend the human feelings and emotions of the characters in the book. No wonder it had won the Pulizer award. When a full sized novel elaborates and magnifies each and every situation and character, Jhumpa Lahiri has constructed each short chapter close to a novel with characters and plot within a twenty to thirty page limit. A very light read yet leaves a strong impression. Read this book and you will not be disappointed, you might even re-read it again!