Jhumpa Lahiri’s career got off to an impressive start–to put it mildly–with her debut collection, Interpreter of Maladies (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner Books), which won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Depicting Indian immigrants or the American-born children of same, and the tensions between assimilation and cultural identity, the nine stories are elegant and descriptive, and the writing is never flashy. In the title tale a westernized young couple and their children visit India; a startling personal disclosure by the previously aloof wife to their middle-aged tour guide (who also works as a translator–or an “interpreter of maladies”–for a local doctor) leads him to examine his own unfulfilled dreams. In “This Blessed House” two newlyweds discover Christian tchotchkes hidden all over their new Connecticut home. The more traditional Hindu husband wants them out, but his wife absolutely loves them (“Face it,” she says. “This house is blessed”). And in the lovely, tour de force closer, “The Third and Final Continent,” a narrator from Boston via London via Bengal reflects, contentedly, on the curious course of his life: “There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” Interpreter of Maladies is the fall 2006 selection for the citywide book club One Book, One Chicago; Lahiri, who in 2003 published The Namesake, a novel exploring similar themes, speaks here as part of the Chicago Book Festival. a Mon 10/9, 6 PM, Harold Washington Library Center, auditorium, 400 S. State, 312-747-4050.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marion Ettlinger.