Carving Without the Least Bit of Intimidation: Love, War, and Food in Jhumpa Lahiri

I’m just going to jump right in and get us started with two interpretive questions:

1. What, precisely, is the “temporary matter” of the first story?
2. What does a pumpkin have to do with the partition of India?

Obviously, the title of “A Temporary Matter” refers to the brief electrical outages that occur each evening in the story, but by the end we are so far from minor inconveniences and so deep into the intimate pains of living a human life that this is clearly no longer the answer. And, of course, the pumpkin is simply what Jack-o’-Lanterns are made out of, and the Bangladesh Liberation War simply takes place in the autumn of 1971, so the presence of Halloween could be merely an accident of history.

These two questions, only seemingly simple, are going to run us over a very wide gamut of world history, geography, and culture. We could talk about many, many, many things just in these two stories, but I would like to focus your attention on a few key themes that are going to weave together this collection of short stories into a whole that will, by the end, emerge as something greater than it’s parts (though the parts are exquisite): marriage, food, genealogy, and partition. In piecing this list together, I excluded many things. For instance, I said marriage instead of love. Why do you think I made that choice? Why food, instead of music, or culture, or language? Genealogy I’ve used to stand in for that whole complex of our relations to our own past, “our native land, native language, and the laws that govern us” (#). And though the Partition does not appear in every story, a partition occurs throughout (see the end of “A Temporary Matter”).

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