Pulitzer-winning, scintillating studies in yearning and exile from a Bengali Bostonian woman of immense promise.
A couple exchange unprecedented confessions during nightly blackouts in their Boston apartment as they struggle to cope with a heartbreaking loss; a student arrives in new lodgings in a mystifying new land and, while he awaits the arrival of his arranged-marriage wife from Bengal, he finds his first bearings with the aid of the curious evening rituals that his centenarian landlady orchestrates; a schoolboy looks on while his childminder finds that the smallest dislocation can unbalance her new American life all too easily and send her spiralling into nostalgia for her homeland!
Jhumpa Lahiri's prose is beautifully measured, subtle and sober, and she is a writer who leaves a lot unsaid, but this work is rich in observational detail, evocative of the yearnings of the exile (mostly Indians in Boston here), and full of emotional pull and reverberation.
With her experiences of three cultures - born in London of Bengali parents, and brought up on the east coast of America - Lahiri has been blessed with a selection of many narrative colours on her fictional palette. She uses them with a sure hand in this collection of nine poignant but simple stories. Mr Kapasi is the interpreter of the title, a middle-aged tour guide in India who picks up an American family for a day's outing. The married couple intrigue him, and he begins to picture their family life. 'They were all like siblings, Mr Kapasi thought as they passed a row of date trees. Mr and Mrs Das behaved like an older brother and sister, not parents. It seemed that they were in charge of the children only for the day.' When Mrs Das finds out that his job during the week is as an interpreter in a doctor's surgery, she presses him for more details. Eventually she asks for his address, and as the day passes he begins to concoct romantic scenarios in his head, but when they are left alone in the car the conversation does not turn out as he had imagined. In another story, Lahiri tracks the downward spiral of an aged Indian stairwell sweeper, Boori Ma, drawing out with exquisite strokes the tiniest nuances and events of her daily life, and the effect these have on her eventual fate. Elsewhere, she constructs another character, Bibi Haldar, who is fated to live as an outsider yet reclaims her own strange dignity. And there are several stories which delve into relationships to examine the progress of romance. In the first of the collection, a couple are steeped in grief for their dead baby. As the electricity is switched off and they are forced to resort to candlelight at night, the metaphor is continued into their relationship: the embers of their marriage are stoked into life one last time. In the last story of the collection, a couple are brought together in an arranged marriage on a new continent, both grappling to adjust to the newness of the stiuation. In all her stories, Lahiri is a fly on the wall, her own voice virtually inaudible in this polished set of lyrical tales. But she relates fragments rather than set-pieces, and her episodes in the lives of aliens are all the more wistful because of it. (Kirkus UK)
Number Of Pages: 208
Published: 15th May 2000
Dimensions (cm): 19.7 x 12.9 x 1.3
Weight (kg): 0.15