Misty's Reviews > The Lowland

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
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First let me say that Jhumpa Lahiri writes extraordinarily well, especially when compared to recent novels I've read. She writes in beautiful detail without seeming fluffy or self-indulgent. In "The Lowland" the settings and environment of the time were characters in the novel, all affecting the players in different ways.

The biggest problem I had with this novel, and the reason for the average rating, was that most characters were downright unlikable and didn't change much over many decades. Although it was a fascinating plot, it was a frustrating read. (Some spoilers ahead)

Subhash and Uyadan were as close as brothers could be. However, Udayan became involved in the 1960s revolution in India and Subhash's disapproval pushed them apart. After Subhash moved to America to study, he kept in touch with his family via letters - learning Uyadan had been married to a woman named Gauri, learning he had been murdered. When Subhash returned to India for his brother's memorial, he learned his brother left behind not only a young wife, but a newly pregnant one - something Uyadan himself did not know. Guari's relationship with her in-laws was strained not only because they didn't approve of the marriage, but because the parents could not handle the loss of their youngest son. Subhash wanted to protect Guari, and Guari's child - the last piece of Uyadan he had left. So Subhash, against his parent's wishes, married his brother's wife and raised his brother's daughter as his own in America.

Guari was not maternal, always having a strained relationship with her daughter Bela. Guari resented how close Bela and Subhash grew over time, and eventually left the family for a new life in California. She spent most of her days alone and never tried to keep a connection to her daughter or second husband, always thinking fondly of her first - the man who lied to her and involved her in his violent acts, who was murdered in front of her. Guari's selfish decision to leave impacted Bela in a huge way, affecting her even greater when Subhash finally reveals that he isn't her real father, but rather her uncle. It's heartbreaking, the moment when Subhash learns of Bela's pregnancy he realizes he must tell her the truth. Bela's confusion, his sadness, their anger that Guari has left them.

In the end Bela and Subhash find their own kind of happiness, a sort of happy ending for two people who were brought together by tragedy, sacrifice, and duty.

There's nothing to learn unless we're living. In death we're equal. It has that advantage over life.

Space shielded her more effectively than time: the great distance between Rhode Island and Tollygunge. As if her gaze had to span an ocean and continents to see. It had caused those moments to recede, to turn less and less visible, then invisible. But she knew they were there. What was stored in memory was distinct from what was deliberately remembered.

He was increasingly aware these days of how much he owned, of the ongoing effort his life required. The thousands of trips to the grocery store he had made, all the heaping bags of food, first paper, then plastic, now canvas sacks brought from home, unloaded from the trunk of the car and unpacked and stored in cupboards, all to sustain a single body. The pills he swallowed every morning. The cinnamon sticks he pried out of a tin to flavor the oil for a pot of curry and dal.

She was the sole accuser, the sole guardian of her guilt. Protected by Udayan, overlooked by the investigator, taken away by Subhash. Sentenced in the very act of being forgotten, punished by means of her release.
Again she remembered what Bela had said to her. That her reappearance meant nothing. That she was as dead as Udayan.

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Reading Progress

July 19, 2014 – Shelved
July 19, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
November 18, 2014 – Started Reading
December 1, 2014 – Finished Reading

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