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By Jhumpa Lahiri
New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, Prometheus Books, 1999
ISBN: 0-395-92720-x
198 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
August, 2014

I enjoyed this volume of Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories and will be on the lookout for other works by her. Below I talk a short bit about each story.


A young couple in their early 30s lives in Boston. The wife is a proof-reader and the husband is still a grad student finishing up, slowly, his PHD. Their families are both from India and they have each been there, she more often than he.

They have a nice home and life had been just marvelous for them and full of hope and dreams. However, their first child was born dead and a terrible pall has come over the relationship. While they had been close and loving, caring and thoughtful, they have drifted apart, not even eating their meals together.

A notice comes from the power company that some electrical lines in their neighborhood must be repaired and for a number of nights the electricity will be cut off at 8 PM each evening, but this is just a “temporary matter.”

They are forced to rearrange their evenings, and their evening meal will have to be by candlelight. Somehow this environment frees them up from the routines they’ve been living, and she begins a pattern where each of them “reveals” something to the other each evening. This seemingly brings them close together again, and signs are that they are getting very close to coming back to the loving ways they had before.

The story is simply beautifully written, touching, gentle, sad, and hopeful. But the reader doesn’t get away without a rather startling ending!


The narrator is a 10 year old girl. It is 1971, seemingly in the Boston area. Her father is a professor at one of the universities and he meets Mr. Pirzada, who has been sent to the U.S. by the Pakistani government to study New England trees. However, they didn’t give him much of a stipend and he’s dirt poor. He lives in the dorm at her father’s university, but takes his evening meals at their house. This is not only for the food, but their family, like Mr. Pirzada, listen each evening to the international news and the central story is generally the coming of war to East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh).

Pirzada has 7 daughters, all of whom have a first name beginning with “A.” He can never remember who is who. He is witty, warm and fun, but terribly worried by the coming war and worried, of course, about his family.

The story follows the development of the war and the girl’s gradual increasing knowledge of the political situation, as well as her coming closer to Mr. Pirzada as a friend.

Eventually, he does go back home and writes a letter back telling them the situation and of his reunion with his family.

Again, there isn’t much of a plot, this is rather a slice of very interesting time in the lives of some very interesting people, but the writing is simply marvelous. It is gripping, empathetic, insightful, humorous and very human. Lahiri is a topflight writer!


This is a deeply touching story which is sort of in two parts. An American Indian family is in India to visit the wife’s parents. They hire a guide to drive them to a popular tourist site. Along the way they chat with him, especially the young wife, and she is fascinated by his regular job as “an interpreter of maladies.” That is, he works for a doctor and translater for some patients who speak an Indian language which the doctor doesn’t know.

The American woman is simply fascinated by his skill to do this and lauds him on his work. He is extremely moved. Seldom has anyone treated him in such a way, and he begins to dream dreams about this woman who is half his age, dreaming of some correspondence beginning, leading to who knows what.

In order to experience more time in her company, he suggests a second trip to a lesser known site. The woman especially wants this. When they arrive she stays in the car with the driver to chat. His is nearly overcome. However, he is soon shocked to discover she wants to share with him a terrible secret and to get his help.

He simply can’t imagine why. However, she has taken his “interpreting of maladies” as almost a form of exorcism or some healing she is deeply in need of.

Only a silly touristy mistake keeps the entire event from exploding on her and him, but the driver is deeply shaken by it all.

This is an exceptional story of high drama, huge human misunderstanding and beautiful and tender writing.

A REAL DURWAN: Pp 70 – 82

This is the very sad story of a very poor woman who earns her keep by being the unofficial “durwan” (sort of a janitor) of a very poor apartment building in Calcutta. The story is set in the 1970s.

She lives an extremely simple life and does her job well, but always tells tales of her life in the past when she was rich. No one much believes her, but she seems harmless and does decent work so they sort of ignore her tales.

Then one resident gets a decent raise in pay and does some improvements on the building, which motivates others to do the same and the building is seriously improved. This means less work for their “durwan” so she begins to spend time walking around in the various markets. Her money and keys are stolen one day, and next there is a break-in and theft in the apartment and the old woman is blamed for being in league with the thieves. She is sent off and a “real” durwan is to be hired.

The story is well written but it is a very sad tale.

SEXY Pp. 83 - 110

Miranda begins an affair with an Indian man she met at Filenes Department Store. She also has an Indian co-worker, and begins to learn some things about Indian culture, but she hasn’t really learned what “sexy” means in the English of India. It isn’t quite what it normally means in the U.S.

Once she discovers a somewhat less flattering notion of the term she ends her affair.

Well written and quite believable.

MRS. SEN’S Pp. 111 – 135

This is a sad but beautiful story of Mrs. Sen, the young wife of a math professor. She and her husband are in the U.S. and she’s terribly homesick for Calcutta. She takes in a 7 year old boy, Eliot, to babysit at her home.

The main thrust is the “how” of her sad life in the U.S., missing home so much and trying so hard to duplicate her life in Calcutta, with, of course, very little success. A sad but moving and beautiful tale.


A newly married young couple move into a lovely upscale home. The husband is an up and coming businessman and is fairly wealthy. He and his wife, Twinkle, really don’t know each other well, but both are of Indian descent.

Twinkle, however, besides being quite beautiful, is also a sort of free-spirited hippie type woman. He is a fairly conservative Indian businessman on the rise. Neither of them is very religious, but they were raised within the Hindu tradition. They are just moving into their new house and Twinkle finds lots of Christian items around from light switch covers to a large Virgin Mary statue in the garden. She is delighted with these “surprises” and believes they belong to the home and with the home, despite the fact they don’t correlate in the slightest with their own religious views. Her husband is embarrassed by these objects and doesn’t want anything to do with them and wants them out of the house.

This becomes a rough sore point between the newlyweds, especially as he has invited many people from his work to a house-warming party.

It turns out that Twinkle and especially her fetish for these Christian trinkets (as she regards them) delight his friends and end up being a very positive breakthrough in their own relationship.


I found this to be a less successful story than the others. It never convinced me of virtually any of the descriptions of Bibi’s illness or of the implausible outcome.


From his leaving India in 1964 to move to England, and then on to the U.S. we follow a young Indian man to his third and final continent. Very little really “happens” in this story, yet it was one of my favorites of the whole volume.

The narrator leaves India with just a few dollars in his pocket and moves to London where he studies at the London School of Economics. At age 36, now married to a woman chosen for him by his family, he moves to Cambridge, Mass., working in the MIT library and awaiting his wife getting her documents and visa.

He takes a small room in a home of a 103 year old woman and strikes up an unusual but very touching relationship with this woman who lives in a world long since passed.

When his wife arrives, he takes her to meet the old lady and actually credits his wife’s friendly response to the woman to be an important factor of easing their own relationship as he and his wife get to know each other.

The tale ends many years later. He’s now a committed American, loves his wife very much and they even has a son at Harvard. He’s arrived at his final continent.

A very touching and lovely tale.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett