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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

From acclaimed storyteller, Jhumpa Lahiri, comes a novel layered with political, social and personal entanglements. Two brothers, born just after the Second World War, in Tollygunge, are inseparable as children, unaware at that time that later in life their destinies are slated to traverse very different paths. But blood is thicker than the water, even though the younger brother, Udayan is drawn to the Naxalite movement in the 1960s, and Subhash leaves Calcutta to pursue his studies in scientific research in America, the two brothers find themselves forever intertwined as a result of the consequences of their actions. Udayan’s love not only for idealism, but also for Gauri, puts him in a constant strife with his parents, and as he writes letters to his brother in the U.S., it is endearing to see that the connection the brothers shared as children still continues to touch them in their adult life.

The Lowland transpires through two generations of a family’s struggle with the political and personal challenges that ignite a course of action impacting not just the brothers’ futures, but also the future of their loved ones. The novel has a steady pace and the author has done a brilliant job of moving the characters from youth to adulthood in a rapid but seamless fashion, sometimes in the matter of a page or so. As a reader, I recommend you follow every word in the novel, for Lahiri has a tendency of imparting critical information about a character in a swift manner, without making it a major dramatic chapter in the book. Blink and you may miss it.


With a natural knack for tapping into the complexities of her characters, as seen previously in Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri maintains this skill in The Lowland with calculated timing giving the reader just enough information to maintain intrigue and interest. As she slowly and purposefully peels away the layers of Subhash, Udayan, and Gauri’s actions and equates them with their thought processes, we are even more intrigued and invested in the characters. The personal stories are beautifully weaved with the historical backdrop: a backdrop that resonates today as India struggles with aspirations of modernity and affluence juxtaposed against realities of  communal violence, class struggles and corruption -- inspiring a story that makes us think twice about the price of idealism, family commitments and personal fulfillment.


The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri - On Sale, September 4, 2013.  

Comments

  1. The authors that populate the annals of "Indian English" literature take their readers on journeys as different as their ancestries: V.S. Naipaul hectors didactically; Salman Rushdie pushes the reader head first into garam masala; while Lahiri takes the reader's hand and pulls her through the journey --at some times rushing, at other times walking-- until she is richer for the experience and has a better understanding of the characters within their milieu.

    Lahiri herself has stated that she does not set out to write about Bengalis; she feels neither particularly Bengali nor American --but the still inchoate strains of identity show through. I found her fiction, particularly in Interpreter of Maladies, to be too clever to a fault by always searching for the exclamation point at the end. But like fine claret there seems to be a maturing process: The Lowland is intriguing as the setting at the beginning which you have described (Calcutta during Naxalite uprising) is something alien to those in North America but familiar to others in the West that lived with hard left militant groups in the 1970s (such as Germany's Baader-Meinhof Group).

    Lahiri's pervious work is neither homage to the tribulations of the Bengali Diaspora nor a visceral critique of the fake gloss of Indian society in the vein of Aravind Adiga; it is a quintessential rendering to give voice to an interesting story. We all have these stories and she appears to tell it well so I look forward to this book.

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