Author Spotlight: Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, is an Indian American author who immerses her readers into the Indian American and Indian immigrant experience in America in her two works, Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories, and her novel, The Namesake. When I first read Interpreter of Maladies, and later The Namesake, in high school, I found Lahiri’s works to be refreshing, especially after only reading what are considered classics in the classroom. Her stories exposed me to a new American story that I had never seen represented in literature before. At the time, I had a limited understanding of Indian culture, and this book altered my perception of not only what it meant to be an Indian person in America, but an immigrant in America in general.

Although the texts focus on Indian Americans and Indian immigrants, I found myself relating to the characters in each of the works. I saw my parents in Gogol’s, the protagonist of The Namesake, and myself in Gogol’s desire to be a regular American kid. I sympathized with Mr. Kapasi, in Interpreter of Maladies, and wondered if I would ever go to my parents’ home country, and if so, would my experiences and attitudes be like those of the Das children? I saw similarities between my culture and Indian culture. Nevertheless, it is not simply the relatability factor that I think myself and other Americans, who helped put Lahiri’s works on the New York Times Best Seller List, are drawn to. It is the telling of other American stories that are often left out of the American narrative—whether that be in books, television, or other media. When Interpreter of Maladies was being taught in my high school English class, it normalized my own American experience as the daughter of immigrants. Even though I’m not the child of Indian American immigrants, it was great to finally see that the immigrant experience in the 21st century wasn’t being left out of the American narrative. Lahiri’s works are compelling, moving, and written with an elegance that I haven’t quite seen anywhere else; but what puts these books on the map for me, is that Lahiri is giving life to the notion that the American experience is still vast and various.If you’re looking for some new reading material, be sure to pick up one of Lahiri’s books over the upcoming winter break. Lahiri has written other works not mentioned above, like the The Lowland and Unaccustomed Earth, which I would also highly recommend.

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