Interpreter of Maladies: A Real Durwan

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Interpreter of Maladies: A Real Durwan

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mar 15, 2017, 12:00pm

Here's our discussion thread for the fourth story in Interpreter of Maladies. What did you think of it? What do you make of Boori Ma? Of her neighbors?

If you'd like to discuss themes across multiple stories, please feel free to create a new topic (see the "Post a new topic" link on the left-hand side of this page). For folks who've finished reading the whole book ahead of schedule, here's a thread where you can discuss the whole thing:

mar 15, 2017, 1:15pm

My least favorite of the book so far, it just felt really cliched.

Redigeret: mar 15, 2017, 1:53pm

>2 pbirch01: That's really interesting—this one was among my favorites, though it didn't start out that way. The narration sort of sets you up to distrust Boori Ma's tales of her grand life lost. Which aspects of it felt clichéd to you, if you don't mind my asking?

Redigeret: mar 15, 2017, 2:15pm

>3 lorannen: I would agree, it did start out interesting and I think the descriptions of Boori Ma are some of the best character descriptions in the entire book. However I felt like the ending was the same old trope of not appreciating what you have until its gone. It seems like all of the prior stories go in very different unexpected directions which is what has made this book such a pleasure to read but this one seemed a bit by the numbers. I felt like the story of Mr. and Mrs. Dalal could have been interesting but it wasn't really developed much.

mar 16, 2017, 1:08am

I liked this story too. It has a Rohinton Mistry feel to it, of course, because of the characterizations, the story around an apartment building's residents, etc. As usual, though, Lahiri's attention to detail is what I liked more than the actual plot.

mar 16, 2017, 8:43am

I thought this story was very cleverly constructed, the main theme being a simple generous act of the gift of the sink sets in motion a series of events that leads to Boori Ma's expulsion.
The residents want someone to blame so use her earlier harmless ramblings to dismiss her pleas of innocence.

The comparison with Rohinton Mistry is apt as he explores similar themes. However, I find he has a warmth and compassion for his characters often missing in Lahiri's stories.

mar 16, 2017, 8:53am

>6 Divasin:: I agree that Rohinton Mistry's writing, especially in Tales From Firozsha Baag and A Fine Balance, comes across as if he's more personally attached to his characters and settings, as if he knows them personally. Lahiri's writing here is definitely like that of a detached observer.

I wonder if this might be because Mistry lived (grew up) in India before moving to Canada, so he writes of an India that was a key part of his life. Lahiri had not lived in India for any decent length of time at the time of writing these stories. This is speculation entirely because, of course, good writers can create characters and settings without having lived there.

mar 16, 2017, 11:17pm

To add to my comment #7 above, I remembered reading more about this approach to writing in John C Gardner's book, The Art of Fiction (it won't link properly, sorry). He wrote about "narrative distance" for characters and gave this example:

1/ It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2/ Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3/ Henry hated snowstorms.
4/ God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
5/ Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul.

It's like using a narrative camera to zoom in and out, if you will.

Lahiri kept a careful narrative distance from certain key characters in many of these stories, I found. Mistry kept less of a narrative distance. As a reader, I find that the greater the narrative distance, the more I am being invited to form my own opinions and draw on my own experiences to bring the character to life in my head. As a writer, this is the main reason I would choose greater narrative distance also.

Using a child's perspective/POV is also a key device to help with narrative distance. You zoom in for the child's actions/thoughts, then zoom out when showing the adult's actions/thoughts. So, it's a specific, conscious choice for a writer to use a child's POV in a particular story/scene.

And, of course, narrative distance variation changes the mood of a story for a reader. Closer and you make a scene more intense; further away and you make it less intense.

mar 18, 2017, 1:08am

Thanks for the suggestions about other Indian authors, inc. the ones avaialble online. Am looking forward to more reading in this genre. (Is genre the right word?)

The situation of needing to adapt to a different culture (if only to be able to live one's life within it, where that's possible) interests me. Although my own cross-cultural experiences are quite minor in comparison to these. But interesting to look at.

mar 23, 2017, 3:39pm

I enjoyed the shape of the plot of this one, but it was so sad. I should have expected a book with maladies in the title would have a number of sad stories.

Thanks >5 jennybhatt: for the suggestion of Rohinton Mistry.