ad info




TIME Asia
TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Entertainment
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia

TIME.com
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Asiaweek
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

 ASIAWEEK.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL


Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest
FORTUNE.com
FORTUNE China
MONEY.com

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story

SEPTEMBER 13, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 10





The Promising Land
Indian-American Jhumpa Lahiri's heralded debut only partly lives up to its advance hype
By NISID HAJARI

The slimness of Jhumpa Lahiri's debut collection of stories hides a remarkably polished package. Three of the nine tales in Interpreter of Maladies (Mariner Books; 198 pages) have already been published in the New Yorker; the title story has been selected for both the O. Henry Award and The Best American Short Stories; and Lahiri herself has been named, again by the New Yorker, as one of the 20 best young writers in America. The cover of her book drips with plaudits from fellow Asian-American women writers.

Few young authors could withstand such a buildup. Yet Lahiri's style--at once full-throated and demure--emerges steadily amid the hoopla. The language seems at times effortless: "For the greater number of her twenty-nine years, Bibi Haldar suffered from an ailment that baffled family, friends, priests, palmists, spinsters, gem therapists, prophets, and fools," she opens one of three stories set in India. Unfortunately, "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" and "A Real Durwan" survive on little more than that smoothness. The outcast women at the heart of both tales are admirably, but not passionately, drawn. Instead, the reader is lulled by Lahiri's rhythmic sentences and, for her Western audience, no doubt by the Indian setting.

Lahiri hits her stride closer to home--on the uncertain ground of the immigrant. The sense of loss and longing that permeates her Indians abroad--a Bangladeshi professor, a Bengali housewife, a young librarian--is drawn with a rare eye for the details of displacement. The professor's coat, notes the little girl who narrates "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine," carries "in its weave the faint smell of limes." The housewife pours her nostalgia into her cooking, crafting huge time-consuming feasts just for her and her husband, bemoaning the lack of fresh fish and the surplus of quietude in America ("Everyone, this people, too much in their world"). The librarian, braving "The Third and Final Continent," puts together the roots of a life--cornflakes, a room to rent and, once his wife arrives, a potato peeler in the kitchen drawer. These are plain tales, familiar in sentiment to any frequent reader of Asian-American fiction. Lahiri, though, achieves a subtlety too often lacking in such stories, an acknowledgment that these characters live neither here nor there--neither fully comfortable in their skins nor steeped in fear and nostalgia. Here, when her stories end quietly, one feels less deflated than unsettled.

One might quibble that there is an excessive familiarity to these tales--not that we've heard them before, but that perhaps the author has. At times the three stories that deal with the souring of love--two involving Indian-American couples and another between a Caucasian woman and a married Indian man--read like journal entries, or schematics to the collapse of a relationship. Their declines are almost too measured, too academic to evoke much sympathy or uncontrived sadness.

Yet when, in the title story, Lahiri knits her strengths together, the promise inherent in this collection becomes clear. The tale brings an American-born Indian family to India. Through their driver, Lahiri notes the awkwardness of their engagement with their homeland, as well as the obvious tension between a couple wed too soon. Through the course of a daylong sightseeing trip she strums upon that tension masterfully, until a simple revelation lays bare the delusions of both the visitors and the driver, the "interpreter" who translates ailments for the local doctor. The whole is assured and powerful, and it is perhaps not too harsh a criticism to say that readers should look forward to Lahiri's second book.

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


AsiaNow


   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.