This fine collection of nine stories--the author's first--offers the reader a variety of experiences that are both familiar and foreign. All concern Southeast Asian Indian (often Bengali) protagonists living either in India, or after transplantation, in the United States. All provide rich descriptions of the details of Indian life, and of cultural values and customs. While the domestic routines (for example, Indian food and cooking provide an important backdrop in several stories) may be unfamiliar to American readers, the style and themes of Lahiri's writing are highly accessible, absorbing, and moving.

Most of the stories are written from a perspective that is between cultures. The characters are not traumatized refugees but are negotiating a path in a country (America) that seems to provide opportunities ("A Temporary Matter," "The Third and Final Continent," "Mrs. Sen's," "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine"); or they are the Americanized children of such Indian families ("Interpreter of Maladies," "This Blessed House"). Ties to the Asian sub-continent may be strong or weak, primary text or subtext, but they are ever-present. Living between cultures lends an extra layer of complexity to situations and relationships that are difficult in and of themselves.


Lahiri, who is of Indian heritage, was born in London, grew up in Rhode Island, and now lives in New York City. She knows her subject and is an insightful, sensitive writer. While any of these stories could be used in a Medical Humanities context, three seem particularly appropriate.

"A Temporary Matter" concerns the gradual dissolution of a marriage following the stillbirth of a woman's first pregnancy. The narrative view is that of the husband, a graduate student who takes over the role of cooking as his increasingly distracted and remote wife seeks refuge in her job.

But the husband is depressed himself, feeling vaguely guilty because he had been at an academic conference when his wife went into premature labor--a situation that his mother-in-law holds against him. It is only in the darkness caused by an electrical power failure that husband and wife are finally able to communicate: "They wept together, for the things they now knew." (p. 22)

A lonely pre-pubescent (American) boy and his home-sick Indian babysitter form a bond in "Mrs. Sen's," a story that emphasizes the difficulties faced by Indian wives who are left at home to cope, without friends or family, while their husbands immerse themselves in the professional, collegial lives that brought them to the United States.

In "The Third and Final Continent," a newly married young Indian man makes his way from Calcutta to London to Boston. In Boston he needs to establish himself before sending for his young wife, who remains in India. He lives in a rented room in the home of an aged woman whose peculiar habits he comes to accept.

The story of their interaction parallels his reflections on his own arranged marriage--to which he has not yet adjusted; memories of his mother's mental disintegration following the death of her husband; and his acute awareness of the differences between Indian and American ways. All of these threads come together in an epiphany that allows him to enter into a long and loving relationship with his wife.


The title story was selected for the O. Henry Award and for Best American Short Stories. The collection won the Pulitzer Prize and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book and a Publisher's Weekly Best Book.


Houghton Mifflin: Mariner

Place Published

New York



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