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The Lowland (Vintage Contemporaries) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 434 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Top customer reviews
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.
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