I enjoyed ‘Interpreter of Maladies’, Jhumpa Lahiri’s book that gave her a Pullitzer Prize when it was out some years ago (come to think about it, I think I read it as part of the Book Club in Singapore!) – so when her second book came out I bought it without any hesitation. I only got to read it in February when I heard that the movie would be released soon.
The story is about Ashoke Ganguli who adores Nikolai Gogol and his life when he brings his new wife, Ashima, from Calcutta to the US. Upon the birth of their first son and in the confusion of a lost letter from Ashima’s grandmother, containing the boy’s “good name”, Ashoke ends up naming the baby “Gogol Ganguli”. The story tells how Gogol became unhappy with his name and changed his name, and how he struggled living in a dual-culture world.
I enjoyed the book even though I get irritated sometimes when Jhumpa Lahiri dwells so much on describing the period paraphenalia – like rubik cube, blue eyelashes — okay, okay, we get it that the story takes place in the 70s-80s. The story flows relatively well, even though there are parts of the book that are pretty “leisurely paced”. Growing up in an Asian culture and now living in Australia, I can certainly relate to some of the events or situations that are portrayed in the book. 3/5.
The movie is also very enjoyable, Mira Nair captures the essence of the book very well. I love the way she lingers on the details of Taj Mahal relief, or fluttering saris in Calcutta, or the dripping icicles in New York. The actors and actresses in the movie are also well-chosen. Ashoke is reserved and dignified – Ashima is strong and graceful … and Gogol perfectly portrays the boy who is torn between two worlds. The movie tries very hard to cram the whole book into the movie and in some parts it is successful, but at times it feels as if you’re in a car that accelerates and slows down at odd times. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful movie to watch if you want to delve into the experience of migrants … 3.5/5.
The music is provided by Nitin Sawhney and if you’re into lounge, downtempo with a bit of beat in it (a la Man Ray or Cafe del Mar) with some Indian influence in it, you’ll also love the way it interweaves with the story.