By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Category: Literary Fiction
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Canada
Pub Date: September 24, 2013
Summary from Publisher:
Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution: the Pulitzer Prize winner and #1 New York Times bestselling author gives us a powerful new novel–set in both India and America–that explores the price of idealism, and a love that can last long past death.
Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and Udayan–charismatic and impulsive–finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America. But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he comes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind–including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.
Suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland expands the range of one of our most dazzling storytellers, seamlessly interweaving the historical and the personal across generations and geographies. This masterly novel of fate and will, exile and return, is a tour de force and an instant classic.
– From Chapters-Indigo website.
Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is a generational story about a family bound to the ghost of one man, Udayan, whose political passion for the Naxalite movement, a rebellion that aimed to eradicate inequity and poverty at high cost in Calcutta, India, becomes the catalyst to life-changing choices made by those who love him.
The family saga continues with one brother’s opposite journey towards silent duty and secrecy when he first moves and then returns to Rhode Island in America to work in scientific research and then becomes a husband and a father in the name of honouring his brother’s memory.
The story focuses on the re-creation and survival of an imbalanced family dynamic: Subhash, in his tenacious will to endure indifference from his wife by instead showering unconditional attentiveness, love, and tenderness to his daughter; Gauri, in her displacement and restless ambition, searches for self-identity and rejects Subhash and the intimacy of motherhood; and Bela, a precocious, headstrong little girl whose abandonment hardens her into a young woman whose advocacy for rights and justice forms her life choices, much like her Uncle Udayan’s did.
The story, while quintessential “Lahiri” in its context about geographical and cultural displacement, is, in its narrative, not as eloquently rich as the author’s previous works, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The narrative is stripped down to its basic necessity, saying what is only needed, perhaps emphasizing the novel’s seriousness. While the book itself is not remorsefully dark, it is, however, sombre in tone and powerfully introspective.
The plot, while more slowly paced than an adventure novel, reads easily and brings the reader to the depth and realism of its characters, who for their flaws, can still convince the reader to empathy, if not forgiveness.
Thankfully, though, Subhash, in his quiet resilience is redeemed as the story’s victor, awarded for his integrity, his patience, and his tenacity later in the book. Though Udayan is the originating power source to the story’s context in which all characters and their motivations stem from, it is Subhash’s survival and lifelong journey that proves to be the soul of the story.
The book brings into question the bonds of brotherly love and rivalry; the boundaries of true love and companionship; and the true definition of parenthood and family; as well as the dichotomy of how far someone will go to support his/her beliefs and/or protect those he/she loves.
With Calcutta and Rhode Island as its backdrop coupled with Bela’s nomadic lifestyle, which keeps her anywhere and everywhere except from “home,” the displacement of culture and lifestyle is indicative in the choices of those left behind in India, those who must change to assimilate in America, and those who must find a happy medium between the two. This contextual theme is “Lahiri-esque” in story subject matter, which the author’s fans will easily recognize and resonate with.
But, the book’s focus and strength is in its story about love and family—and what that means in its ever-changing and evolving dynamic.
The title, The Lowland, is as much about a place, as it is about a state of being.
Characters: 4 stars
Pacing: 3.5 stars
Cover Design: 2 stars
Plot: 3 stars
A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Knopf Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and author of two previous books. Her debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award and The New Yorker Debut of the Year. Her novel The Namesake was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and was selected as one of the best books of the year by USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Have you read “The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri? What did you think of the book?
Do you think it was correct for the character, Udayan, to participate in the Naxalite movement to the extent that he did?
How do you feel about Subhash marrying his brother’s wife?
What other titles have you enjoyed by Jhumpa Lahiri?
Thanks for joining me in reviewing Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest novel, The Lowland.
Happy reading, bibliotaphes!