2 Words that describe the book: Short story heaven
3 Settings where it took place or characters you met:
This is a collection of short stories by the writer I consider to be the master of the form. Here are highlights of three of my favorites stories from the book:
- “A Temporary Matter” – A married couple who recently lost a baby experiences moments of intimacy and closeness during the “temporary matter” of electricity cut-offs due to nearby construction. During candlelight dinners, they begin to close the gap that had grown up between them after the baby’s death. But, sadly, even this regained intimacy turns out to be a temporary matter as well.
- “Mrs. Sen’s” – A lovely but wistful story told from a young boy’s view. Eliot is the only child of a single mother, who hires various babysitters to keep watch on him while she works. The last babysitter is Mrs. Sen, an Indian woman whose house and lifestyle are different but comforting to Eliot. His afternoons with her are spent watching her daily chopping of the vegetables, joining her quest for perfect piece of seafood, and watching her delight in letters from her family. Then one day, it comes to an end, along with a piece of Eliot’s childhood.
- “The Third and Final Continent” – An immigrant story told in a handful of pages, the centerpiece of the story is the narrator’s stay in Mrs. Croft’s house. Mrs. Croft is a widow whose eccentricities and vulnerability stay with the narrator long after he leaves her house. The house becomes a touch point for him and his wife, Mala, who came over from India to marry him as part of an arranged marriage. For it was in Mrs. Croft’s home that this marriage of strangers began to become a real marriage built on love and mutual respect.
- I like Jhumpa Lahiri’s prose. She has a true gift for filling her stories with everything you need to know but without making it seem cluttered or overdone. Each story is a little masterpiece. If you think you don’t like short stories, you haven’t read Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories.
- I liked the stories set in America the best. I think Lahiri is at her best when writing about the immigrant experience. The stories set in India didn’t have the same graceful feel as the stories set in America. “A Real Durwan” almost seemed like a folk tale in a way.
- I liked how Lahiri can tell the Indian immigrant story from multiple viewpoints: Eliot’s view of Mrs. Sen; a single girl’s dalliance with a married Indian man. However, I think Lahiri is at her best when writing about the immigrant experience from the first-person point of view.
- Although I liked this book, I think her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, was richer and fuller and more focused. But don’t get me wrong; this is a brilliant book and is not to be missed. I just though Unaccustomed Earth was perfection, and this book was a bit uneven in its tone at times.
I’m giving the book 4 stars. Once again, I’m blown away by Ms. Lahiri’s talent. If you’ve never read her short stories before, I strongly encourage you to do so. In my mind, she is the master of the form. By the way, this book won the Pulitzer Prize, so I’m not alone in my high estimation of her talents. For another take on this book, check out this review by my friend Michael5000.
I got my copy from Paperback Swap after I was blown away by Lahiri’s book Unaccustomed Earth last year. My copy will soon be winging its way to its new home with Jill at Rhapsody in Books.
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