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The Lowland Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 24, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2013: But for its lyrical, evocative scenes of life in the Calcutta neighborhood in which her heroes grow up, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland could be set anywhere, in almost any time. At the center of this heartbreaking story are two very different brothers. Udayan, the younger by 15 months, is passionate, idealistic and ripe for involvement in the political rebellion in 1960s India (not all that different from his American counterparts of the same era.) Subhash is the “good brother,” the parent-pleaser, who goes off to study and teach in America. But when Udayan, inevitably, ends up a victim of his self-made political violence, Subhash steps in and marries his dead brother’s pregnant wife. His is the proverbial good deed that will never go unpunished; Subhash soon becomes a victim of his own goodness. As always, Lahiri’s prose is lyrical and rich and her story is steeped in history, but in this book (more perhaps than The Namesake, her other novel) the issues raised are more universal and the plot more linear. Competitive siblings, parental love, commitment to belief and family, these are the topics one of our most brilliant writers addresses in what is at once her most accessible, and most profound, book yet. --Sara Nelson
*Starred Review* The clever Mitra brothers are inseparable even though Subhash is serious, cautious, and reliable, while Udayan is brash, impassioned, and rebellious. Both excel in their studies even though, thanks to Udayan, they get into mischief in their quiet, middle-class Calcutta enclave with its two adjacent ponds and water hyacinth-laced lowland, a gorgeously rendered landscape Lahiri (Unaccustomed Earth, 2008) uses to profound effect. In college, Subhash studies chemistry, Udayan physics, but while Subhash prepares to go to America to earn his PhD, Udayan experiences a life-altering political awakening. It’s the late 1960s, a time of international protest, and Udayan joins the Mao-inspired Naxalite movement, which demands justice for the poor. He also secretly marries self-reliant, scholarly Gauri. Subhash’s indoctrination into American life and Rhode Island’s seasons and seashore is bracing and mind-expanding, while Udayan’s descent into the Naxalite underground puts him in grave danger. As shocking complexities, tragedies, and revelations multiply over the years, Lahiri astutely examines the psychological nuances of conviction, guilt, grief, marriage, and parenthood and delicately but firmly dissects the moral conundrums inherent in violent revolution. Renowned for her exquisite prose and penetrating insights, Lahiri attains new heights of artistry—flawless transparency, immersive intimacy with characters and place—in her spellbinding fourth book and second novel, a magnificent, universal, and indelible work of literature. An absolute triumph. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Pulitzer Prize winner Lahiri’s standing increases with each book, and this is her most compelling yet, hence the 350,000 first printing, national author tour, and major publicity campaign. --Donna Seaman
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So I was dying to get my hands on her new novel, The Lowland. I read through it eagerly but I closed the last page with mixed feelings.
Let's start with the good: Ms. Lahiri is a natural-born storyteller. In this book, she introduces two brothers, close in age who are poles apart - Udayan, the revolutionary brother who gets caught up in the Mao-inspired Naxalite movement to wipe out poverty in India and his more reserved and dutiful brother, Subhash, who leaves home to pursue an academic and scientific life in Rhode Island. When Udayan inevitably gets swept into a revolutionary movement that turns out badly, Subhash returns home -briefly - and picks up the pieces, including an attempt to heal the emotional scars of his brother's young wife.
As the plot goes on - and it is not my desire to encapsulate the plot or to create spoilers - about 70 years of family history is condensed into a mere 340 pages. Themes play out and then they play out again: the connections that make and break us, the intertwining to people we cannot truly see or know, the way we are defined by the place we call "home", the quiet differences we make in the world. It's all wound up in the history of India and indeed, Ms. Lahiri is at her very finest when she's describing Indian customs or lifestyles as only an insider can.
There's some lovely craftsmanship here, not bells and whistles, but quiet and contemplative -- even shimmering - moments. The problem is, I never found it to be very compelling. Because of all the years and generations (four of them) that Ms. Lahiri has to cover, she can only provide sketches of her characters. And they never truly come alive.
Yes, Udayan is the fiery revolutionary...but what made him so and why was he willing to sacrifice so much (the headiness of youth and a sense of fairness should only be the beginning). His wife, Guari, who eventually bonds with Subhash, was an enigma to be throughout. She is a distanced character, and her actions begin to feel somewhat predictable; the reader is never treated to her resonance and depth. And Bela, her daughter, is only revealed in limited emotional scope.
A novel, unlike a short story, demands a considerable emotional tension, a multi-textured richness that makes characters leap off the page. I never really sensed the two-dimensionality, possibly because the story line was multi-generational and ambitious. The litmus test of whether or not you will love this book is this: if you loved Namesake, this is definitely a book for you, since stylistically, there are similarities. If you are, instead, a fan of her short stories, you may or may not be engaged. Judge for yourself.
The story is told by each character in a kind of "Rashomon" method (variations on the fullness of the truth.) The reason Gauri was widowed and her part in the tragedy is not revealed until way late in the book--and the shock value is heightened. Other events, though major and earthshattering for the characters, are foretold in such a way as to give you a feeling of dreary inevitability, which is the effect the author wants. As usual, the themes are alienation from loved ones, from your birth place, the inability to connect fully with another person, and the loss of a parent or a child and its devastating emptiness. A lot of the short stories Lahiri writes have similarly pessimistic themes--you'll recognize these page after page. Yet despite the pessimism and missed opportunities for love to blossom and endure, her work is always filled with hope. It's an interesting contradiction that makes me turn every page with excitement. I can NEVER put down a single one of her books; have to read them in big gulps. The stories or chapters just pull you along inexorably. I can't think of another author that has me so enthralled lately. She's a master storyteller.
I enjoyed this novel; it grabbed me right from the start (where the two brothers are playing golf as kids while trespassing on an English club) to the tragedies and turns of events that follow. I love this author's works and I get impatient for every new book.
This novel is longlisted for the Man Booker prize. It is a searing novel of how an act of useless violence can change family dynamics. In a sense, it is about decisions- good and bad ones, that lead to major changes in the lives of a family. There is not much to criticize here. The characters are beautifully rendered and the plot is totally captivating and true to life. The book is a modern masterpiece and it will break your heart.