Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Lowland tells several tangled stories of loss and displacement. Two brothers grow up in Calcutta after the Partition of IndiJhumpa Lahiri's novel The Lowland tells several tangled stories of loss and displacement. Two brothers grow up in Calcutta after the Partition of India and seem headed on divergent paths, but end up with closely intertwined fates. One, the younger, joins a revolutionary cadre, the other, the dutiful one, escapes to Rhode Island for a career in environmental marine science.
The opening pages are largely devoted to setting the scene historically, geographically, and politically. Point of view shifts among several major characters, none of them wholly sympathetic except perhaps Bela, who is in a sense both brothers' daughter. Her mother is distant when present, to the point of invisibility, and so it is shocking but unsurprising when she disappears physically as well. There is lots of heartbreak, though many passages shine with lyrical beauty. The lowland of the title refers both to a feature of the family's neighborhood in India, subject to seasonal flooding, but also perhaps metaphorically to the depths of sadness and futility that all the family finds itself submerged and trapped within....more
Since I found her earlier graphic novel Fun Home so moving and powerful, I just couldn't wait to get this book into my eager hands. Not quite as mazinSince I found her earlier graphic novel Fun Home so moving and powerful, I just couldn't wait to get this book into my eager hands. Not quite as mazing as its predecessor, but still well worth reading....more
A book that begins and ends with mysterious clarity of voice and vision. Though written by a young American in the 1920s, it reads like a work balanciA book that begins and ends with mysterious clarity of voice and vision. Though written by a young American in the 1920s, it reads like a work balancing gracefully between the old-fashioned and the magically realistic.
How do we find any meaning in the seemingly random appearance of death among our daily comings and goings? What moral distance separates the character of those felled by accident from those left behind as witnesses and survivors? This engaging and lyrical story compels us to consider how and if our lives might retain some meaning -- whether clarified or distorted by emotion -- in the memories of those we leave behind us.
The last lines of the book, quoted by Russell Banks in his forward to the 2003 reprint, speak directly to this theme: "But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."...more
I found this book very absorbing, even though the onset of work in the fall meant I had to put it aside for far too long.
The section on migration to MI found this book very absorbing, even though the onset of work in the fall meant I had to put it aside for far too long.
The section on migration to Milwaukee I found especially fascinating. I grew up in a small town just outside that city, a sleepy little place fast becoming a bedroom suburb. We had been there only a few years when a strange rumor swept up and down our dead-end road -- a Black family had bought the house for sale down on the corner and would be moving in soon!
There was some excitement on the road, some fear, and not even one bit of indifference as far as I could tell as an eight-year-old boy. Three neighbors put their homes up for sale before (they assumed) their property values could plunge.
When the new folks moved in, they were much like any other middle-class family on the road - a dad, a mom, a girl (Gail, who joined my class in school), and two younger boys. Soon I was hanging out in their yard with other neighborhood kids, playing touch football with the dad and admiring his collection of baseball bats in the garage.
Oh, did I mention? This was the family of Henry & Barbara Aaron. Mr. Aaron played right field for the Milwaukee Braves baseball team and went on to complete a very famous career in sports, twelve years or so later eclipsing Babe Ruth's home run record after the team (and Mr. Aaron) moved to Atlanta.
I don't know whether the people who sold their homes in a great panic when this family moved in ever felt their own foolishness and stupidity as strongly as this little boy felt it at the time. My mom and Gail's mom became friends and would occasionally spend the afternoons in each other's kitchens. The Aarons were the first African Americans I would ever get to know, and in some ways they were typical of any suburban family.
But of course they really weren't typical in the least....more
Despite this being such a famous novel and also one of the favorite books of several of my friends here at Goodreads, this is my first time reading JaDespite this being such a famous novel and also one of the favorite books of several of my friends here at Goodreads, this is my first time reading Jane Eyre.
My feelings of shame over confessing this cultural lack are lessened by noting that the book was dedicated to W.M. Thackeray, Esq. -- at least I've read Vanity Fair, if I can trust a blurry memory of a weekend in college when the choice for a history class was a weekend read of Vanity Fair or War and Peace.
I picked up this copy through the bookswap feature here at Goodreads to read as preparation for Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, which we're discussing next month at my in-person literary group Directed Reading. ...more
**spoiler alert** The evening's the best part of the day.
I found this a very satisfying read. Across a brief period of just a few days we watch and li**spoiler alert** The evening's the best part of the day.
I found this a very satisfying read. Across a brief period of just a few days we watch and listen as a man comes to question the basis of his entire life's work. Organized around a week-long solo journey by automobile to the southwest of Britain in the 1950s, the story is narrated as the self-reflections of an English manservant nearing the end of his career at a distinguished country house. Stevens is butler at Darlington Hall, where for decades he served a political-amateur aristocrat who came dangerously close to collaboration with Nazi Germany as he sought to broker "peace" in his time, the inter-war decades of the 1920s and 1930s.
All the hallmarks of Stevens' tentative personality emerge on the first page, as he tells us that he is fairly certain that he will soon leave on a trip that he has been considering taking for some time. Stevens has received a letter from a former co-worker, Miss Kenton, that suggests her unhappiness and encourages him to think that she just might be interested in returning to her former position as head housekeeper at Darlington Hall. For ten or twelve years, perhaps, the two had worked side-by-side, while Stevens remained unresponsive or even oblivious to Miss Kenton's personal interest. It's clear to us that he has unexplored feelings for her as well but he remains unable to let them surface in any visible way. As I read these passages I would constantly remember scenes from the wonderful movie made from the book, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, who did a masterful job in conveying these repressed emotional lives by the barest flicker of an eyebrow or tight little smile.
Control of emotions is one of the themes of Stevens' self-understanding -- he thinks that presenting a face of "dignity" or calm even in the face of extreme circumstances is what made him an excellent butler. (The example of the death of his father in a tiny attic room while Stevens is busy with an important banquet in the hall shows his inability to express any emotion at all, however wrenching.) Stevens has outdone his father, himself a formidable butler in his day, by acquiring a posh accent and manner from observation and by reading novels in his spare time (a nice comic touch, when he tries to hide his embarrassment in being caught by Miss Kenton with a frothy romance meant for the ladies!).
At the end of the day, what remains, however, is not merely to know that one fulfilled one's professional duties with dignity and style, but whether those efforts were ultimately in the service of a larger good. Late in his journey Stevens runs out of gas near a tiny village, whose unworldly inhabitants mistake him for "an important gent," what with his fancy car (borrowed from his new American employer) and fine clothing (hand-me-downs from Lord Darlington) and refined manner. Stevens allows the villagers to make a big fuss over his presence and masquerades for the evening as a landed gentleman -- in part because he enjoys the attention and in part, he comes to realize to his own discomfort, because he has recently come to deny any real connection with his (in)famous former employer Lord Darlington.
The book closes with Stevens awaiting sunset in an English seaside town, where the pier lights will soon be illuminated in a multicolored display of some renown. Seated near him as he muses over these events is a man who himself has recently retired as a manservant, in a situation far less glamorous than that at Darlington Hall. But Stevens senses a commonality with the man and admits that he may well be right when he pronounces, whether symbolically or not, that "the evening's the best part of the day." Look ahead, not back, says he and says Ishiguro, since all that this reminiscence offers is regret. Maybe the best of the day still remains....more
A fascinating and moving novel that re-imagines the story of the "mad woman in the attic" who haunted Jane Eyre and her Mr. Rochester.
Thick with CariA fascinating and moving novel that re-imagines the story of the "mad woman in the attic" who haunted Jane Eyre and her Mr. Rochester.
Thick with Caribbean atmosphere and interpersonal drama, this brief book offers an engrossing, poignant, occasionally horrifying, but ultimately satisfying read. Here we have an important political statement about gender, class, and race, beautifully framed as the picture of a troubled marriage of two people from rather different worlds but revealing oddly similar character. Alternating between the perspectives of the new wife and husband, we watch a couple with remarkable sexual chemistry fail to overcome their mutual suspicion and preconceptions about his English masculinity and her Creole temperament. A combustible mix of oppression, resentment, and poverty threatens both the newly freed slaves and the European planter families.
The book offers an explanation for the madness of Antoinette Cosway (called Bertha in Brontë's novel) that is compelling yet also heartbreaking. A troubled girlhood, marked by parental rejection and sudden violence, may possibly be forgotten in her marriage to the unnamed Rochester, lured to Jamaica by her reputed beauty and especially the substantial dowry offered by her stepfather. For a brief while we enjoy the couple's honeymoon trip to the lush upland of nearby Dominica, surrounded by mountains, the sea, the strong fragrance of tropical plants and the soon-threatening press of the jungle. Black servants, especially Antoinette's old nurse from French Martinique -- apparently an adept of the local version of Voodoo -- are grudgingly respectful but increasingly sure of their new power in a time of shifting fortunes. Rumors and accusations about his bride, possibly false but probably at least partly true, lead Rochester to withdraw his affections and help send Antoinette further into despair and desperation. Her nightmare of confinement in Thornton Hall and its denouement offer a devastating but fitting conclusion.