Sunday, 19 July 2009

"Hell-Heaven" by Jhumpa Lahiri

I have been meaning to read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri for years; in fact, Amazon reliably informs me that I have had a copy of the book since October 2005. Now that I am attempting to read the Pulitzer winners I am relieved to know that I will be finally reading it and considering reading it quite soon. To give myself an idea of whether I would like Lahiri's writing style I decided to first read the first story "Hell-Heaven" from her latest collection, Unaccustomed Earth, in DailyLit installments. Funnily enough, after I began reading, Karen from BookBath asked me if I had read it in the comments of my Pulitzer Prize post and highly recommended it.

After reading the last installment of the story today I read Karen's review of the collection here (written last year) and now I am definitely borrowing the collection from the library but whether that will be before or after I read Interpreter of Maladies I am undecided upon.

Despite regularly reading short story collections in short spurts, sampling one or two stories before moving onto something else and returning to the other stories later, and usually not reading them in the order in which they are collected, I have never read a short story itself in installments. Reading "Hell-Heaven" in that manner was interesting but I don't think it is something I would repeat; perhaps it is testimony to Lahiri's writing and her talent as a story-teller that I wanted to read it all at once (which I could have done but I have been busy this week and bite-size chunks was convenient, if not ideal). A vivid rendering of characters seems to be Lahiri's prowess and I wanted -and want- more.

"Hell-Heaven" (notice the reversal?) is told from the perspective of an American-Bengali woman looking back on her childhood and the relationship between her mother and family friend, Pranab Kaku, who her mother was in love with (they are closer in age than her and her husband through arranged marriage) and who marries a Western woman, Deborah. The conflicting -and at times incongruous- Bengali versus American way of life is a central theme, as are broken hearts, and the mother and daughter relationship. It is a very well written short story and I was reminded of a novel I read last year, The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi, which has a similar subject matter.

I am looking forward to reading the remainder of the short stories and Jhumpa Lahiri's other work. From this story alone I recommend her.


Susi said...

I am a fan of Lahiri's writing, have read all of her short stories and her novel - in my humble opinion, she is an exceptional writer and there aren't enough people out there who know that she exists and writes wonderful stories.
Every single one of her story never ceases to amaze me - the language is so rich and powerful, I absolutely adore it.
I think I loved 'Interpreter of Maladies' (the whole collection, not just the title story) even more than 'Unaccustomed Earth' - but that's just because Unaccustomed Earth, in its second part, gives one big story in three parts. I preferred the single stories in her first volume - and every single one is amazing.

Ok, rambled on enough, I would assume. Guess it's quite obvious that I love her writing.

JoAnn said...

I'm not sure if a short story read in daily installments would work for me. Lahiri is a fabulous writer, though, and I loved both Unaccustomed Earth and Interpreter of Maladies.

Cornflower said...

I read Unaccustomed Earth a few months ago and was very impressed by Jhumpa Lahiri - eloquent, sensitive, and with a deep understanding of her subject matter which she puts across beautifully.

Nymeth said...

I adored Interpreter of Maladies, but I haven't read Unaccustomed Earth yet. I did read this story on the New Yorker website a while ago, though, and I loved it. She's such a subtle, intelligent writer.

Paperback Reader said...

Susi, I love your enthusiam! I am definitely looking forward to reading her work including The Namesake.

JoAnn, it was an interesting approach to a short story (and it is a longer "short" story) but I don't think it's a method I would repeat and much prefer to read a short story in one sitting if I can.

Cornflower, eloquent, sensitive, and a deep understanding of her subject matter is definitely a description I would attribute to Lahiri. She does indeed write and convey her stories beautifully.
Lovely to "see" you :).

Ana, I love that short stories allow me to experience more and more writers when there is limited time to read full-length novels by them all. I will follow through and be reading more of Lahiri's work though as her writing craft is near impeccable.

Karen said...

I'm so glad you loved this story! I hope you go on to enjoy the rest of them just as much. She is an amazing writer who I recommend to everyone now!

Paperback Reader said...

I'll definitely be doing likewise, Karen; she is more than deserving of being read by everyone.

Diane said...

This was a terrific book. I LOVED all her books (big fan here).

Paperback Reader said...

Diane, it's great to know that her books are so loved! It does inspire me to read them all soon.