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“The impulse that courses through Jhumpa Lahiri’s beautiful debut, Interpreter of Maladies, might be called the ardor of empathy. In the 10 stories that make up this collection, Lahiri displays a steadfast curiosity about human behavior and a healthy respect for its mystery. Shrewd but not judgmental, she has the grace to make us feel close even to foolishness and timidity and naiveti and the wit to make actions logical without being predictable.
“The best humanist artists have the gift of erasing boundaries between character and audience and the concomitant power to wound us by making us share the characters’ tragedies. If Lahiri hasn’t yet fully achieved that kind of power, it may be because she hasn’t yet placed her characters in the direst circumstances. But you can’t read Interpreter of Maladies without imagining that someday soon she’ll write something that scars us with its beauty of perception.
“If I haven’t said anything about Lahiri’s style, that’s because the identification she establishes between her readers and her characters requires the kind of simple, direct prose whose refinement is invisible. In the last words of the collection’s last story, ‘As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.’ Lahiri’s gift is to invest the ordinary with an emotion that makes us feel we’re seeing it anew. What is beyond her empathy is not yet apparent.”