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The Life and Motivation of Jhumpa Lahiri sample essay

Jhumpa Lahiri was born on 1967 in London, UK. Her parents were Indian-Bengalis. Lahiri grew up in Rhode Island, USA and she considers herself to be an American. Lahiri is a very educated woman with multiple degrees in English, including a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. She did a two-year fellowship at Provincetown’s Fine Arts Work Center. Lahiri lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a journalist who used to be a Deputy Editor of a Latin American magazine called Time and who now is an Executive Editor for El Diario/La Prensa, New York’s largest Spanish newspaper. Lahiri and Vourvoulias-Bush have two children, Octavio and Noor (Wcislo, Katherine).

Jhumpa Lahiri has written a novel, The Namesake, after her debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. She has also written her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, which debuted in the Number one slot in The New York Times best seller list. Lahiri’s story, “Trading Stories,” also have been published by The New Yorker magazine. Lahiri has been a Vice President of the PEN American Center, an organization designed to promote friendship and intellectual cooperation among writers, she has been the Vice President since 2005. In 2010, Lahiri was appointed a member of President Barack Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, along with five others. Lahiri has been influenced by her own lifestyle, being raised by immigrant parents; people around her and by other authors whose books she has read throughout her life. Each influence has been portrayed in one way or another throughout her works.

Jhumpa Lahiri grew up in a household were books were commonly found but in no interest to her. As she says “my house was not devoid of things to read, but the offerings felt scant, and were of little interest to me.” Lahiri said she didn’t own a book till she was “five or six” (78 Trading Stories).

In an Interview (Reader’s Guide), Lahiri says when she was at the age of seven she started writing and it formed the basis of her friendship. She used to write stories with her closest friend during recess in elementary school. This set an example and at times they had a group of four of five kids working on a book with them. Jhumpa Lahiri hoped it rained so they could stay indoors and write instead of having to run around the playground. In her adolescence years, she had stopped writing fiction, but she wrote for her school newspaper.

In college, Lahiri took a few workshops but she said she had no confidence in herself as a fiction writer. Since she had no confidence she decided to become “an academic” and she applied to several graduate English programs; but that didn’t workout for her because she was denied from the programs. Lahiri then got a job as a research assistant at a nonprofit institution in Cambridge and she had her own desk and computer to work on. This is when she started to write fiction again, but more seriously this time (Reader’s Guide). Lahiri says in “Trading Stories” when she started to write again it was no longer to connect with her peers, but to connect with her parents (82).

Lahiri says she had enough material to apply to the creative writing program at Boston University and once that ended she went to graduate school and got her Ph.D. in the process. Lahiri noticed she didn’t want to be a scholar anymore, so she kept writing stories and she had the chance to publish a few. Lahiri was later accepted to the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown and she said she has “been extremely lucky” because she feels it was a “miracle” that she had a chance to get “an agent, [sell] a book and [have] a story published in The New Yorker.” This is like a dream come true or a “blessing in a disguise” (Reader’s Guide).

Jhumpa Lahiri has a plain writing style because it “appeals to [her] more.” She says when she rework her stories she tries to make it as simple as she can. When the reporter asked her if she has “any desire to write a huge, panoramic novel”, Lahiri said she doesn’t think she is an “effusive writer” because her “writing tends not to expand but to contract” and if she does write more novels, they would be more “streamlined and concentrated.” Lahiri doesn’t “like excess” and this is why she believes that her writing is plain. She also says what makes a great sweeping work “great is that there’s no excess“(The Atlantic). Lahiri says how Vladimir Nabokov, a multilingual Russian novelist and short story writer, has been an inspiration with his beautiful simple language. In another interview, Lahiri states how she loves William Trevor’s, an Irish author and

Zahir 4 playwright, style of writing straightforwardly. Trevor has been an inspiration to Lahiri and that is shown through her work “The Third and Final Continent” (342 Fiction Gallery). “The Third and Final Continent” is a clear-cut short story where the narrator is based on Lahiri’s father and where he is describing his life and the obstacles he overcame.

Lahiri was inspired to title her book “The Interpreter of Maladies” long before she actual wrote Interpreter of Maladies. Her friend, who was an interpreter at a doctor’s office translating for the non-English Russian speakers, inspired her to come up with this title. Five years down the line, she wrote many short stories that went into the book now known as interpreter of Maladies, which discusses “the dilemma, the difficulty and often the impossibility of communicating emotional pain and affliction to others” as immigrants starting life afresh in a new land (Reader’s Guide). Lahiri uses this inspiration to create a section in the short story, “Interpreter of Maladies,” where Mr. Kapasi’s second job was to interpret at a doctor’s office for extra money.

Identity is also an important factor in Lahiri’s stories, which deals with identity crisis and identity losses. In an interview Lahiri answers a question on identity:

The question of identity is always difficult one, but especially so far for those who are culturally displaced, as immigrants are, or those who grow up in two worlds simultaneously, as is the case for their children. The older I get, the more aware am I that I have somehow inherited a sense of exile from my parents, even though in many ways I am more American than they are. In fact it is still very hard for myself to think as American. For immigrants the challenges of exile, the loneliness, the constant sense of alienation, the knowledge and longing for a lost world, are more explicit and distressing for their children. On the other hand the problem for children of immigrants, those with strong ties to their country of origin, is that they feel neither one thing nor the other. The feeling that there was no single place where I fully belong bothered me growing up (Reader’s Guide)

From this interview it seems Lahiri herself suffered from an identity crisis, which allows her to write about identity crisis of expatriate communities. Interestingly many characters of Lahiri’s short stories in The Interpreter of Maladies also suffer from “loneliness”, “alienation” and “longing for a lost world” as she did (Reader’s Guide). Lahiri’s background is important for her writing because generally expatriate writers write about expatriate communities. For example in an interview, Lahiri has stated that her “characters are generally always composites of people [she knew], people [she] heard of, people [she] imagined, and a little drop of [herself] (343 Fiction Gallery).

In the book, Interpreter of Maladies, one may notice that there are different kinds of identity losses or identity crisis in this debut short story collection. Every character in these stories is suffering from identity loss or identity crisis. For Mrs. Sen of “Mrs. Sen’s”, it is loss of social identity because she left Calcutta and lost her female friends. For Boori Ma of “A Real Durwan” it is the loss of her economic identity and financial status, since she lost her property while migrating to India from Pakistan in 1947. For Mr. Pirzada of “When Mr. Prizada Came to Dine” he lost his identity due to temporary political crisis, the 1971 Bangladesh War. In “This Blessed House” Sanjeev lost his religious identity. The narrator of “The Third and Final Continent” is facing the problem of identity crisis of the second generation; where he worries his son would not carry on speaking Bengali and following certain traditions such as eating rice with his hands (Interpreter of Maladies).

Every author has their own set of inspirations for their writings. One may clearly see that Jhumpa Lahiri’s had these different influences: Lahiri’s lifestyle, her immigrant

Zahir 6 parents, various authors and the people whom Lahiri has been acquainted with have all been reflected throughout her works.

Works cited

Chotiner, Isaac. “Jhumpa Lahiri – Magazine – The Atlantic.” The Atlantic — News and

Analysis on Politics, Business, Culture, Technology, National, International, and

Life – TheAtlantic.com. Web. 06 July 2011.

Didato, Thom. Steele, Alexander. Fiction Gallery. New York: 2004. Print.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Print
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Trading Stories.” The New Yorker 13 June 2011: 78-83. Print.

Wcislo, Katherine. “Lahiri.” Emory University—English Department “Where

Courageous Inquiry Leads” 2001. Web. 10 July 2011.

Reader’s Guide for Interpreter of Maladies Published by Houghton Mifflin

Company.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Distinguished Book Publishing since

1832. Web. 06 July 2011.

Zahir 8

Annotated Bibliography

Chotiner, Isaac. “Jhumpa Lahiri – Magazine – The Atlantic.” The Atlantic — News and

Analysis on Politics, Business, Culture, Technology, National, International, and

Life – TheAtlantic.com. Web. 06 July 2011.

This article really helped me out a lot. It’s an interview and the reporter is asking some very good questions. The questions helped a lot.

Didato, Thom. Steele, Alexander. Fiction Gallery. New York: 2004. Print. This is a very short but clear-cut article. It gets straight to the point and I used it effectively.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin,
1999.

Print.
Without reading this book, I would have never knew anything about Lahiri’s work.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Trading Stories.” The New Yorker 13 June 2011: 78-83. Print.

This Article is pretty long, but it covers almost every topic. I used it effectively and it helps me understand Lahiris story a little better.

Wcislo, Katherine. “Lahiri.” Emory University—English Department “Where

Courageous Inquiry Leads” 2001. Web. 10 July 2011.

This source was more like a bio of Jhumpa Lahiri. The Information really helped.

Reader’s Guide for Interpreter of Maladies Published by Houghton Mifflin

Company.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Distinguished Book Publishing since

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