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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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One wonders at some point what the drive of the book is and what Lahiri is doing with her story, where she's going with the characters. The truth is, time is the main dynamic driving her work; Lahiri is spanning decades and generations, political climes, technological epochs, a changing multicultural world, and she does this as a solemn ode to the process of aging. Aging is the heart shared by all the major characters in the work and although this makes the work personable, the task of documenting the long arrow of time from a very particular Asian (India on the brink of communism) and Asian-American (immigrant) POV, seems to be just as important for Lahiri. Everything else affecting her characters' lives- tragic and mature and final their motives and trajectories may be- nothing else is more important than notating such an expanse of history involving very particular beings, places, and races. The collective perspective of Subhash, Udayan, Gauri, and Bela gain a socio-anthropological objectivity as their lives are set in literary permanence. You will find Lahiri's soul in the grey or greying hairs of her characters, a resonance which readers in their 30s and over will be sure to appreciate.
The Lowland is a beautiful work and Lahiri's most important to date.
Jhumpa Lahiri has moved to the front of my favorite author list after reading “The Lowland.” I’m fickle with my favorite authors so how long she remains there is dependent on what I read next. The fact remains that she’s a remarkable writer and has captured me with this magnificent novel.
A researcher, cautious and reliable Subhash, relocates from India to America, and his younger sibling, rash and idealistic Udayan, is assassinated as a political activist in Calcutta. Subhash marries the widow, Gauri, who is carrying his brother’s child, to remove her from the brothers’ disapproving parents who are creating an oppressive environment for her. The ensuing years are chronicled as Subhash attempts to quiet the reverberations that affect all members of his family, although his efforts are mostly ineffective. His relationship with his niece, and stepdaughter, Bela, is a captivating episode of love and acceptance, but family members generally go their separate ways, each carrying their own bag of ashes.
This story of two brothers with very different approaches to life is largely joyless but it does not leave an aftertaste of depression. The lives of the characters steadily progress with hints that something pleasant might happen, a hypnotic writing style that keeps reader involved. Disappointment, unfulfilled dreams, secrecy, and many deaths inhabit this lengthy novel but the ending, in just a few pages, brings the story to a tranquil closure.
Lahiri touches senses and allows descriptive passages to be felt rather than read. She describes rain as both a feeling and a sound. “The roof of the cottage was as thin as a membrane, the pelting sound of the rain like an avalanche of gravel.” Recollections of seaside cottages are nostalgically gathered. “He pulled… into the driveway, bleached shells crackling under the tires as he slowed to a stop.” And sleepless nights are relived. “He longed for sleep, but it would not immerse him; that night the waters he sought for his repose were deep enough to wade in, but not to swim.”
Several generations pass and the reader is carried along by the author’s mesmerizing story. It is written crisply in brief and succinct language. There are no lengthy, soaring flights of inner thoughts with obscure meanings. Relationships are clear and believable. The dialogue is easy to follow although the author doesn’t use quotation marks, but I don’t miss them. As mentioned, the author’s talent for drawing the reader into the story and allowing action to be felt, rather than simply directing eyes over words on a page, creates a glorious experience.
As I end the book I have a curious thought. If Lahiri can write a book of sadness with such skill and poignancy, how might she present one of light heartedness and wondrous experiences? Just a thought.
Schuyler T Wallace
Author of TIN LIZARD TALES