BOOKS REMAINING: 21
CURRENT BOOK: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Hectic week involving the sudden passing of one of the other secretaries in my group at work. You hear stories where the elderly person who lives alone doesn’t show up when and where they should and people get concerned and ask for a wellness check and find the person’s body in the person’s home, but you don’t expect it to happen to people you know. I wasn’t especially close with her and I even forewent the services since my husband and I were already jammed all weekend with other things we had tickets for and had committed to. And this was after I had to work overtime all week to fill in while we were short-handed and sent out a writ. While my husband and I had a fun weekend, it proved true that there can be too much of a good thing, and we both started dozing off yesterday evening while watching television and he almost slept through the alarm this morning.
However, I did somehow manage to finish the next book on the list. After the many novels relating to African-American women, I have been glad to see books on the second half of the list coming from some of the other cultures that make up the American “melting pot.” Interpreter of Maladies, being focused on Bengali culture, is one of these.
Lahiri is similar to Flannery O’Conner in the way she can depict characters and their culture and put an unexpected twist at the end of a story, and I found myself drawn into her characters’ worlds. Some of the short stories in this collection take place in the United States, and others take place in India.
Many of the stories explore marriage within the context of the culture and its values. Specifically, how marriage is traditionally something arranged between two families wherein two people from similar backgrounds unite for practical purposes and often come to love each other later as they get to know each other. This was explored in another novel I once read titled How to be Single — I forget the author’s name but she was a writer for “Sex and the City.” The main character had an acquaintance whose family was from India, and after being unsuccessful with dating the acquaintance finally gave up on it and allowed her family to arrange a marriage for her. The main character mulls over whether this would have been easier than dating, and I can’t help doing the same. Not that I trust my parents’ judgment — I don’t! When I think about it, I am almost certain that I would not have been happy with any man my parents might have chosen for me, although I do think that coming from similar backgrounds helps, as I can see how it has caused challenges in my marriage that my husband and I came from different backgrounds (at least to the extent of my white-collar family versus his working-class family).
However, what does appeal to me, is the idea that maybe at its heart marriage is not most solidly based on romantic love or physical passion. There is something appealing about the concept that, rather than marrying for love and so often allowing the love and passion to fizzle out — especially after children are involved — it is better to have a common foundation and allow the love to come later, when it may be less fun or exciting but it may be deeper after weathering the challenges that come with sharing life together. And maybe that’s what they mean when they say that marriage takes work. Is the work worth it? Especially once the fun and excitement fizzle? The jury’s still out.