I have liked each of Jhumpa Lahiri’s books of fiction, but this has always been and remains my favorite, and my argument for the best of them. I hope she gets back to writing fiction, but I recognize she seems to be exploring something quite important to her through translating Italian.
The title story in this collection is about a guide following a young Indian-American family visiting India and taking on a translator and guide. In his everyday life he works for a doctor translating the pains and injuries and diseases of patients into the language the doctor speaks. In this way he becomes a conduit of pain, but as the woman in the family soon realizes, that doesn’t mean he’s an expert in all forms of translation of human suffering.
The opening story, “A Temporary Matter,” is about a strained marriage between a graduate student and his wife in the year after losing a baby in childbirth. The power company has informed them that there will be a series of planned outages in the coming days, and during the blackout they choose to tell each other hidden truths.
My favorite story has always been “This Blessed House” about a young married couple that barely knows one another moving into a new house. In it they find the trappings of the former tenant, clearly a performative Christian. The wife finds the paraphernalia delightful and wants to drape the house in it, while the husband is more concerned with fitting in an inoffensive and bland manners as possible.
These stories, and this is probably my 5th reading of them but in 10 years or so, are so precise and perfect in almost every way. I don’t always like stories, but these so surgically good.