Jessica Jeffers's Reviews > The Lowland

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
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really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, authors-of-color

Jhumpa Lahiri is, hands-down, my favorite writer. The Namesake is part of the reason why I chose to pursue a career in books, and it was very nearly the subject of my master's thesis. I'm not much of a short story reader, but Unaccustomed Earth made me wish I could be a writer.

I just love the way that she examines human nature. Sometimes her themes can be a little repetitive, but her insights are so sharp. I love how her work tends to emphasizes the smaller moments of her characters' lives -- The Namesake condenses an entire thirty-something years into less than 300 pages, but never felt like it was lacking in depth.

The Lowland follows a similar structure, but here Lahiri covers more years and more generations in more pages. It doesn't work quite as well as The Namesake did, but it's still quite powerful.

The book begins with two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, in 1960s Calcutta. Udayan becomes involved in an underground communist movement, while Subhash pursues postgraduate education in America. When Udayan's politics cost him his life, Subhash returns home and learns that his sister-in-law, Guari, is pregnant. Guari is received coldly by the brothers' parents because the marriage was not an arranged one. Knowing that she will essentially be alone, Subhash decides to marry her and take her back to America with him so that she may have a safer, more economically secure life. The books follows their lives well into the twenty-first century.

I think that the metaphorical elements of this book, the aspects that emphasize themes and broader ideas work quite well. That's where Lahiri shines the most. The contrast of Guari's unarranged marriage to Udayan versus a might-as-well-be arranged marriage to Subhash. Guari and Subhash’s differing approaches to parenthood contrasted against their differing paths to parenthood. How their daughter Bela’s approach to life varies from their own. The sacrfices made by each of the brothers in their pursuit of what each sees as the noble path.

Unfortunately, the characters in The Lowland don't shine quite as much. Over the course of this book, we see Udayan and Subhash as young children, experiencing things that will lead to Udayan's desire to join the Naxalite movement during his college years. We see Subhash grow into an old man and Guari's daughter grow into middle age. We see the brothers’ parents reach the end of their lives. And yet, I never felt connected to any of these characters quite the way I expected to. They behaved in complex-yet-predictable ways, but their development sometimes felt mechanical in a way that didn’t allow them to rise up off the page.

Lahiri is a brilliant writer and I can’t not recommend this book. Start with her other works first, if you haven’t already. Read this one for the thematic exploration of cultural and familal obligations – if you want a story where the characters grab you, you may want to pass over this one.
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Reading Progress

January 23, 2013 – Shelved
September 24, 2013 – Started Reading
September 28, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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Cheryl Ha! Review to come, I take it? :)

Jessica Jeffers Things have been so busy, I haven't been able to write a review of any length lately. :-/ As soon as I finish this one (uhm, tomorrow?) and can wipe all the drool off, I'll get a review up.

message 3: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Shelat Great review! She's one of the reasons why I'm an English major!

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