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June 2017: Coming of Age > The Lowland / Jhumpa Lahiri - 4****

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Book Concierge (TessaBookConcierge) | 2657 comments The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
4****

From the book jacket: Born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other in the Calcutta neighborhood where they grow up. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead. It is the 1960s, and Udayan – charismatic and impulsive – finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty; he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.

My reactions
This is a dense, character-driven story, that explores both the immigrant experience and the relationships between family members. Spanning decades, we watch these characters muddle through life, changing their goals and expectations as tragedy or joy, opportunity or obstacle comes up. No one wants to make these kinds of decisions, but sometimes life forces us to do so. In this way we can all relate to the characters. And yet, their experience is very different from my own, and while I feel for their plight, I’m not sure I understand them. And I definitely do not like a few of them.

The story is not linear; Lahiri uses flashbacks as characters remember past events or wonder about what might have happened. It is never recognized as such, but clearly several of them are suffering from PTSD, doing what they can to hide from the world and avoid further pain (a strategy which, of course, does not work).

Lahiri writes beautifully, and I kept marking passages. She has a gift for putting the reader into the setting with her descriptions. One can feel the heat and humidity of Calcutta, smell the fresh briny scent on the breeze of a Rhode Island beach, hear the sounds of a morning ritual, and taste the food served. Her characters observe what is going on around them and their hesitancy or surprise when encountering new experiences, made me look at my familiar surroundings with new eyes. For example:
The main doors were almost always left open, held in place by large rocks. The locks on the apartment doors were flimsy, little buttons on knobs instead of padlocks and bolts. But she was in a place where no one was afraid to walk about, where drunken students stumbled laughing down a hill, back to their dormitories at all hours of the night. At the top of the hill was the campus police station. But there were no curfews or lockdowns. Students came and went and did as they pleased.

I so wish this was a book-club selection, because I long to discuss it with someone.


LINK to my review


Booknblues | 1680 comments I really enjoyed this when I read it. I know that others liked her other book so well that they did not warm to this, but this was the first I had read by her and I loved it.


Denizen (Den13) | 1168 comments Good review BC.

The Lowland was a strong 4 star book for me. I also found it an immersive experience and felt I came away with a better understanding of the immigrant experience. Lahiri was probably the first author to pique my interest in the immigrant experience as a theme. It's now something I try to seek out several times a year.


Tracy (Tstan) | 678 comments I liked this one, too- I read it right after it came out. She certainly can immerse you in the setting, and the brothers- hoo boy, their relationship! And it's a Rhode Island book- maybe someone will choose it for their cross country starting point!


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