by Jennifer Garcia
Jhumpa Lahiri is an Indian-American female author whose writing deals with conflicting cultures and quests for one’s identity. I had never heard of Jhumpa Lahiri until I enrolled in a Reading Women Writer’s course at UT. When my friends would ask for my favorite books and authors I would always mention classics because, aside from Young Adult novels, I was not reading too many contemporary authors. I felt that the classic, dead authors, were the ones I was supposed to be reading and analyzing but University has taught me to search for, and read, contemporary authors who are just as talented.
Coming across Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing, I was instantly hooked. She writes without boundaries. What she hides, she reveals. Her writing breaks your heart, makes you laugh, and makes you hungry for more.
Jhumpa Lahiri has written various short stories, novels, and articles for The New Yorker. Her short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies (1999), won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, amongst many other prestigious awards. Her work fascinates readers and critics alike. She delves into complex issues of marriage, of growing up in America as a second or third generation Indian. Relatable characters who make mistakes, who hide secrets, and who live with guilt.
“A Temporary Matter,” Lahiri’s short story written in 1998, explores the ramifications of losing a child and its resulting strain on the relationship between the almost-father and almost-mother. The devastation of experiencing a loss so great results in physical and emotional changes within characters, which they attempt to ignore and to continue the façade of a perfect relationship. However, with the notice of a temporary matter (one hour electricity shut off) Shoba and Shukumar share secrets in the darkness, becoming closer than before but ultimately failing to save their marriage. Her short story contrasts dark with light and the unexpected with the planned, to illustrate the temporary matter of happiness, fulfillment, and love, ultimately making Shukumar and Shoba realize the futility of their relationship.
The short stories I have read resonated with me because of my Mexican-American status. I, too, feel the clash of cultures and values in both my heritages. She knows what it means to grow up with conflicting ideas and a constant state of “in-between.” Her realistic portrayals of marriage, parenthood, and being human make her one of my favorite authors. I recommend her to anyone who enjoys reading about despair, guilt and hope. Because even though everything may not work out in the end, we must keep going.