Title: The Lowland
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Random House India
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
First Publication: 2013
Major Characters: Subhash Mitra, Gauri Mitra, Bela, Udayan, Holly, Richard Grifalcony
Setting Place: Calcutta, West Bengal, India; Rhode Island, USA
Narration: Third Person
Theme: Duty and Desire, Heritage and Homeland, Secrets and Conspiracy
Book Summary: The Lowland
Born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other in the Calcutta neighborhood where they grow up. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead.
It is the 1960s and Udayan – charismatic and impulsive – finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement: he will 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 and piercingly intimate, The Lowland is a masterly novel of fate and will, exile and return. This is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.
Book Review: The Lowland
I was not familiar with this author or her other award winning works, the Pulitzer prize in fact, but the storyline of inseparable brothers raised in Calcutta, India, who take opposite paths in their lives, captured my attention.
At first I was unsure if I could stick with The Lowland. It was a story like many I’ve read before about life in India, a culture that permeates every movement in life. When one of the brothers, Udayan, secretly becomes immersed in a political movement, I became slightly turned off by the subject matter but not the writing. So I kept reading.
“Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms, the steadfast tranquility of the evenings. The promise that she would find things where she put them, that there would be no interruption, no surprise. It greeted her at the end of each day and lay still with her at night.”
The brothers are raised in a middle class neighborhood on a narrow street with a mosque on the corner. They are a Hindu family. The house their parents have built, backs up to the lowlands, an area that floods and dries with the seasons. Subhash heads to America to study away from the turmoil of his home. Udayan stays to fight for his cause and defies his parents by bringing home a wife they do not approve of. The wife, who no one is able to love except Udayan, becomes the center the family’s sorrow.
“Most people trusted in the future, assuming that their preferred version of it would unfold. Blindly planning for it, envisioning things that weren’t the case. This was the working of the will. This was what gave the world purpose and direction. Not what was there but what was not.”
The Lowland is a story of choices defined by the friction created by opposing, deep rooted cultures. The ebb and flow of their lives mirrors the lowland that is the family’s foundation. The author’s prose is steady, calm and captivating. The Lowland is a book I couldn’t put down, stayed up late and woke up early because I had to know where each course of action would lead. Books with that kind of power don’t come along very often.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri beautifully illustrates the human condition. The human condition shapes who we are as an individual, a family, a society and I am fascinated by it. The Lowland is worth every minute of time spent immersed in the lives of the people living with the rhythm of the lowland.