I got my hands on the much talked about and critically acclaimed book of the year by the much talked about author Jhumpa Lahiri. The book title The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is I think her 4th novel. Sometime last year I read and reviewed “The Namesake”. I loved that book and when I started The Lowland I had a few similar experiences.
The author having her roots in India, understands India and the intricacies of migration to a foreign land in such a detailed manner that I have never come across writers who can put the complexity and difficulties of such transition so beautifully.
The Lowland has some parts of this experience but essentially it’s a very different book then “The Namesake”.
Subhash and Udayan two brothers who were born around the time that India got freedom and Bengal was in turmoil with the Naxalite movement catching up and parties like CPI(M) and CPI(ML) which were leftist and pro Mao, Lenin being born in the heartland of Bengal, Calcutta. The two brothers are as much different as they are similar.
Udayan goes on to join the Naxalite movement and Subhash moves to the US for further studies and research. Udayan is killed by the police and in a turn of events Subhash marries his widowed and pregnant wife Gauri to keep her safe and takes her to the US. Gauri couldn’t continue her marriage with Subhash normally and is not very keen on bringing up her daughter Bela but she likes philosophy and she continues her studies and one fine day she leaves both of them to join a job in California.
From that point on Subhash struggles to bring up their daughter Bela who is growing up and is always confronted with the question how to tell Bela that he is not her real father.
It is a beautiful story with different shades of love and life. But at a certain level it’s also a complex story of human emotions. The writing is so beautiful that makes it easy for the reader to understand and relate to the complex emotions of the characters.
The love and hate relationship of the brothers Udayan and Subhash, the undying love of Gauri and Udayan which continues even after his death and eventually ruins her relationship with Subhash and Bela. The paradox of an intelligent woman to choose between following her aspirations or stay put with her family. The complexities of a single parent, a father handling a growing daughter. An expatriate trying to connect to his roots but at the same time being scared that he doesn’t get sucked back into it. And many more such emotions brilliantly elaborated by the author.
At the end the author doesn’t pass any judgement (which no good author should) and just brings out the innermost feelings of the characters. You end up hating no character and loving none. The book essentially says to us “It is what it is”.
The book will appeal to you, if you are into human emotions and are fine with a slow pace. At times the story runs on two tracks, one with Udayan and Naxal movement in Bengal and other with Subhash. Lives so different yet trying to draw a parallel in both at some level. There are so many aspects involved in the book that it takes a little effort on both the author’s as well as readers’ end to understand and move forward with the story.
The book is not for you, if you are looking for some fast paced story or a thriller. And though in many ways it has elements of her earlier book The Namesake, yet it is so different from it.
One thing is there which I thought certainly, that it can easily be reduced by 30 pages or so, other than that The Lowland
is a very good story.
Thanks to MySmartPrice for sponsoring this book