Jhumpa Lahiri's "Interpreter of Maladies" won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction - an award usually given to novels. But "Interpreter" is not a novel. It is a collection of short stories. And the stories are not connected narratively. None of the characters, places, or events tie together. Some stories take place in India, and some in the United States. However, each of the nine narratives features Indians or Indian-Americans.
And each explores relationships and the conflicts in those relationships. These relationships can be between lovers, a community, a parent, and a child.
Most of the stories end badly due to suspicion, adultery, wrongful accusations, or divorce. Lahiri brings life to the characters but leaves the reader with a sense of melancholy. My heart sank when overcommunication killed a marriage. Stories show the cruelness of others against their less fortunate family members and neighbors in "A Real Durwan" and "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar."
The final story redeems the others with a tone of optimism lacking in the previous eight. In "The Third and Final Continent," a visiting scholar fondly remembers coming to America and connecting with his 103-year-old landlord - the first American with whom he formed a bond.
"Interpreter of Maladies" is a well-written showcase of the diversity of thought among those from South Asia who immigrated to America and those who stayed in their home country.