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Sunday, May 13, 2007 - Page updated at 02:01 AM

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Author explores immigrant experience

Seattle Times staff reporter

Author Jhumpa (JOOM-pa) Lahiri won a Pulitzer Prize for her first book and emerged with a critically acclaimed movie for her second. So what does she do from here?

For Lahiri, who wrote the short-story collection "Interpreter of Maladies" followed by the novel "The Namesake," the response is to write more. Lahiri, 39, lauded for her vivid chronicling of the immigrant experience through Indian-American characters, is finishing a book of short stories slated to come out next spring.

Lahiri will be here Monday and Tuesday for Seattle Reads, the Seattle Public Library program encouraging a deeper appreciation of literature through featured authors (information, 206-386-4636).

You have said, "I write to understand life." What have you discovered while writing your third book?

I've been thinking a lot about what is lost and what is gained in the life of the child of an immigrant as that child grows older and becomes an adult and has children. This is the first book I've written with the consciousness of a parent.

Mira Nair recently directed a film based on "The Namesake." What was it like to see your story on screen?

The first time I saw it was about a year and a half ago when Mira had first completed the rough cut. That was just a very intense experience. My first reaction was, "Oh my God, I can't believe someone has (a) read, (b) absorbed and (c) re-created a world that I created." It was really an amazing feeling.

Did you feel protective of your book?

No. It's very finite for me when I finish a book. I sort of feel like an animal who gives birth and then just walks away. That little creature has to stand up and figure life out and I'm not going to be there.

Your next project is a novel. Do I detect a pattern here?

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It's not intended to go short story, novel, short story, novel. The main thing for me is thinking of the story and thinking of what is going to suit it best. I knew before I even started writing ["The Namesake"] it would be a novel. Now I have a new idea for another story I'm pretty sure has to be a novel.

One of your new stories takes place in the Seattle area. Why set it here?

The two times I've traveled to Seattle, both times I was struck by a sense of remoteness. I wanted to write about the child of an immigrant who makes a journey herself. I wanted to explore what that was like for her, and sort of reflect on that experience being a very small version of the journey her parents had made. I really wanted that sense of the distance, the literal distance that exists between New York and Seattle.

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150

or ntsong@seattletimes.com

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