The Lowland: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. 352 pp)
Born in London to Bengali immigrants, Jhumpa Lahiri moved to the United States at the young age of 3. Her first published work, Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. In 2007, Hollywood adapted The Namesake into a feature film. A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, Lahiri is a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.
Why do you read? One of the big reasons for me is the ability to transport into different settings, cultures, and points of view. When an author succeeds in suspending reality and building a world into which a reader can step, the experience is of high value. For me, Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the best authors around at accomplishing these aims.
The Lowland tells the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, growing up in Calcutta during the 50s and 60s. Both boys are brilliant and mischievous, running around in the lowland near their parent’s home.
“So many times Subhash and Udayan had walked across the lowland. It was a shortcut to a field on the outskirts of the neighborhood, where they went to play football. Avoiding puddles, stepping over mats of hyacinth leaves that remained in place. Breathing the dank air” (3).
As the brothers grow up, Udayan becomes involved in the Naxalite movement — a communist group based in India. The two quickly grow apart as Subhash migrates to the United States to continue his studies in science at a university.
This split and the subsequent events in the Naxalite movement set the stage for the novel as the entire family hashes out the consequences of certain actions. One thing is certain: the lowland near the boys’ house will never be the same.
Meaning Comes from Living the Consequences
I recognize that I haven’t told you much, but truthfully the climactic point of The Lowland emerges very early in the narrative and it’d be best to avoid spoilers. Most of the book discusses life, identity, and duty based off of these critical moments.
What does it mean to be a brother? What does it mean to be a son? How does family apply when you live half a world away?
The Lowland spans generations, beginning in the 50s when Subhash and Udayan are young children and continuing through to the modern day where age and frailty begin to diminish ability.
Lahiri has immense talent, her prose jumps off the page, and her characters are well developed. Lahiri flourishes in her ability to immerse the reader in her culture. While The Lowland doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Namesake, Lahiri’s current offering is well worth a read.
Verdict: 4 out of 5