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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Monday, 30 June 2008

Personal Accalamation

I came late to 2000 Pulitzer-Prize winner, Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of nine short stories called Interpreter of Maladies. It was just yesterday when I finally finished the slim paperback in a couple of hours. The day before, it had been Saudi dental student, Raja Alsanea's banned Girls of Riyadh.

When all the adulation was going on beforehand in the New York Times, I lived in Melbourne, Australia, engulfed in another life and so knew nothing about it. At the time, I tip-toed around South Asian literature with caution and politeness. This after the delight of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. I think Manju Kapoor's Different Daughters was the furthest I ever got in my passions...and when I wanted something different would pick stories from the South Pacific. Women writers from Tahiti or the Fiji Islands often seek careers with agents and publishing houses in Melbourne and Sydney and their novels are easily available.

It was only after I moved to London in 2003, that I began to probe stories from my father's homeland with a new impatience and far greater intensity. Now, South Asian literature together with Middle-Eastern literature both grip me with separate feverish longings. Moods have certainly turned around in the present day with Indian writers worldwide holding daring and extraordinary themes to their work.

In England, I had read Lahiri's The Namesake and was drawn to the fictitious Ganguli family; the sympathy afforded to the North Indian mother who fell out of place in America and to her American-born son, Gogol, who fell out of place in India. I loved the subtle questioning and riveting tale. Then a friend had said that the plot was surely weak when compared to those earlier prize-winning short stories. Today, 5 years later, I'd happily disagree. Although Interpreter of Maladies is beautifully sentimental and affords no room for any kind of pretentious language, I think The Namesake is still a highly important novel for the subject of emigration and the soothing acceptance of a displaced identity. Now, I have Lahiri's newest short story collection Unaccustomed Earth waiting with some eagerness on my bookshelf. I can't wait. At the moment, it still stays on the bestseller list of the New York Times.


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