Title: The Lowland
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Two brothers, born 19 months apart in 1960s Calcutta, who are inseparable. The elder, Subhash is studious and determined; as he becomes a young man, he decides his future lies in America. Udayan, the younger of the two, finds a different path for himself in the Naxalites, an Indian communist movement that fights against inequality. Though these two brothers travel very different roads, the bond of family keeps them together, until a tragedy changes everything and resets the course of Subhash’s life.
The Lowland is a gorgeous novel, full of heartbreak, about one man’s search for love and family. It’s so difficult, when a novel like this comes around, to put into words what makes it great. Yes, there are adjectives to describe it, but there’s no way to convey the actual experience of reading it: the shock, the horror, the beauty, the quiet contentment. The Lowland evokes so many conflicting emotions within the reader; there’s tragedy on each page, yes, but there’s also the small joyous moments: the smile of a daughter, an unexpected letter from home, a beautiful woman on the beach. It’s Lahiri’s ability to balance these moments, telling a deep and meaningful overall story without neglecting the small joys and sorrows of life, that makes her such an amazing writer.
Subhash is the main character of The Lowland; the novel follows his, rather than Udayan’s, journey. We receive Udayan’s story in flashbacks, as Subhash tries (and often fails) to understand his estranged, distant brother. The juxtaposition between these two divergent paths is a fascinating one. Neither is more legitimate, yet they take these two brothers to two very different places. Lahiri does an excellent job portraying the complex relationships between siblings and among family members; the real beauty, though, is in the simple love between a father and a daughter. In this, Lahiri is simply luminous.
Throughout The Lowland, the theme of family keeps reasserting itself. What is family; how is a family formed? Does your family consist of the people who are there, day in and day out, or those who share your blood, however distant they may be? There are no easy answers to these questions, and readers will constantly be reflecting on them while reading. Lahiri’s beautiful, elegant prose lays these relationships bare, exposing them for all their flaws and faults, but also revealing the true love that lies beneath.
Political discord takes center stage in The Lowland, and it’s hard to not form an opinion about the Naxalite movement while reading. For readers who are unfamiliar with the Naxalites, Lahiri provides a wonderful primer by transporting the novel back to the movement’s inception. Their methods are violent, yet knowing the stark gap between haves and have nots, between the wealthy and poor of India, can readers really blame these young men and women for trying to make a difference? There are secrets about Udayan’s role in the movement that come out over the course of the novel, and it’s for the reader to determine where that line between right and wrong is and when the ends justify the means. It’s certainly a book that will leave you thinking, long after the last pages are turned.
There is so much more I could say about The Lowland, but this is a novel best ventured into without too much information, so I’ll stop here. Fans of Lahiri have been waiting for her next book with eager anticipation, and I’m thrilled to say that not only does this book meet expectations, but it beats them. It’s luminous and breathtaking; readers will absolutely devour this saga of family and the clash between cultures.
Other books by Jhumpa Lahiri: