|Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri is a collection of short stories about Indian culture, both in India and the United States, as well as the joys and difficulties of relationships that someone of any culture can identify with. Some of the stories have a thread of sadness in them such as “A Temporary Matter” while others are quirky such as “This Blessed House” (my two favorite stories).
With Jhumpa Lahiri’s excellent writing and characters that are easy to identify with, there is sure to be a story that each of your book club members will enjoy.
Book Club Ideas
In “This Blessed House” Twinkle and her husband move into a house that has hidden Christ figurines. Twinkle, despite not being Christian, cannot resist displaying her treasures, much to her husband’s horror. This is a fun story that I think anyone who has ever had to make a compromise in a relationship (which I am sure is everybody out there) can identify with. For decorations for a book club party for Interpreter of Maladies, I placed crosses and candles with Christian themes on a sideboard. Similar candles can be found on Amazon.com. Amazon also has a variety of crosses and Christ figurines that can be used for decorations.
When Mrs. Sen, a character homesick for India, longed for home, she played a raga. According to Mrs. Sen, this music is only supposed to be heard in the late afternoon, as the sun was setting.
Book Club Menu
One of my favorite Indian dishes, shrimp malai, was mentioned in Interpreter of Maladies (page 20). I have never made this dish at home so I was excited to give it a try. This Shrimp Malai Curry is made with both coconut milk and coconut cream to give it over-the-top flavor.
Book Club Resources
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 4.11 stars (109,757 ratings)|
|Amazon: 4.4 stars (973 ratings)|
|LibraryThing: 4.1 stars (2,412 ratings)|
|My Rating: 4 stars. The characters in this collection of short stories are fascinating. Despite each story being only about 20 pages, which isn’t a lot of time for character development, I could easily identify with the characters and feel their emotions.|
Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.
- Which story is your favorite? What aspect of the story made it your favorite?
- Which character was your favorite? Which one did you most dislike? Is there one particular character you could most identify with?
- Were there certain stories that you wished you could continue reading? Do you think any of these stories would have been able to stand alone as an entire novel?
- Which story gave you the greatest sense of happiness? Sadness? Loneliness?
- How is this book similar to Jhumpa Lahiri’s other books? If you have not read any of her other books, are you now motivated to do so?
- Lahiri has said, “As a storyteller, I’m aware that there are limitations in communication.” What importance in the stories do miscommunication and unexpressed feelings have?
- In “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine,” what does the ten-year-old Lilia learn about the differences between life in suburban America and life in less stable parts of the world? What does she learn about the personal consequences of those differences?
- For Mrs. Sen, “Everything is there” (that is, in India). What instances are there in these stories of exile, estrangement, displacement, and marginality—both emotional, and cultural?
- What characterizes the sense of community in both the stories set in India and stories set in the U.S.? What maintains that sense, and what disrupts it?
- Another reviewer has written, “Food in these stories is a talisman, a reassuring bit of the homeland to cling to.” How do food and meal preparation maintain links to the characters’ homelands? What other talismans—items of clothing, for example—act as “reassuring bits of the homeland”
- What are the roles and significance of routine and ritual in the stories? What are the rewards and drawbacks of maintaining long-established routines and ritual?
- In “Interpreter of Maladies,” Mr. Kapasi finds it hard to believe of Mr. and Mrs. Das that “they were regularly responsible for anything other than themselves.” What instances of selfishness or self-centeredness do you find in these stories?
- In “Interpreter of Maladies,” visitors to Konarak find the Chandrabhaga River dried up, and they can no longer enter the Temple of the Sun, “for it had filled with rubble long ago …” What other instances and images does Lahiri present of the collapse, deterioration, or passing of once-important cultural or spiritual values?
- Rather than leave his weekly rent on the piano, the narrator of “The Third and Final Continent” hands it to Mrs. Croft. What similar small acts of kindness, courtesy, concern, or compassion make a difference in people’s lives?
Purchase Interpreter of Maladies at your favorite bookseller
|Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London and grew up in Rhode Island. Lahiri received her B.A. from Barnard College; and from Boston University she has received an M.A. in English, and M.A. in Creative Writing, an M.A. in Comparative Studies in Literature and the Arts, and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. She has taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design and has been a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Lahiri’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Agni, Epoch, The Louisville Review, Harvard Review, Story Quarterly, and elsewhere. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, she has received the PEN/Hemingway Award, the O. Henry Award, a Transatlantic Review award from the Henfield Foundation in 1993, and a fiction prize from The Louisville Review in 1997. She was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and was named one of the “20 best young fiction writers in America” in The New Yorker‘s summer 1999 fiction issue. Jhumpa Lahiri lives in New York City.|
Awards for Interpreter of Maladies
• Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
• Winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award
• The New Yorker’s Best Debut of the Year
• Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
• American Academy of Arts and Letters
• Addison M. Metcalf Award Winner
Other Works by Author
Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for Interpreter of Maladies? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.