Recently, I got a copy of The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, which delighted me since I’ve heard wonderful things about her works.
Set in India, The Lowland is an epic family saga that chronicles the lives of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan. Subhash is the dutiful son while Udayan is the more rebellious one. Soon, Udayan gets swept into the political turmoil in India and the Naxalite movement, which takes after the Maoism of China. Subhash on the other hand decides to immigrate to the US to pursue an academic life in a quiet town in Rhode Island.
Soon, tragedy hits and Subhash goes back to India to pick up the broken pieces– his family and well as his brother’s family. The dilemma between duty and love hits Subhash as he returns back to the things he left behind.
While The Lowland is a cultural novel set in India as well as the US, at the core, it surpasses the immigrant stories to become a global story that people of all cultures can connect to. Familiar themes– family versus duty, cultural disconnect, as well as moments of disappointment and solitude are all experiences that people, regardless of culture, can connect to. When Subhash’s relationship with a woman doesn’t come to fruition, rather the woman refuses to categorize the intimacy that they shared as a relationship, the disappointment he feels makes a connection with the reader. Lahiri writes, “She had caught him in his own web, telling him what he already knew… He could not blame her; she had done him a favor by ending it. And yet he was furious with her for being the one to decide.”
The genius of The Lowland is that Lahiri creates a novel that is at the same time, familiar and foreign in a simplistic prose. Indian culture is not something that normal Americans are exposed to, save for the occasional meal at an Indian restaurant that typically involves a curry dish, or the occasional mention of Bollywood. Even with the stereotypical Indian things, Indian culture is still more or less a foreign idea and Lahiri shows readers how familiar and how similar we all are. Family is still family, regardless of color, physical location or culture.
The Lowland is a poignant novel that is sure to strike a chord with readers and I’m happy that I was able to read it. Lahiri’s sensitivity to her characters with their complex emotions is amazing.
While we’re on the topic of covers, I love the cover of The Lowland. It’s utterly simplistic but like the novel, there are nuances. Handwritten designs are something that I’ll always love.
Edit: I just found out that The Lowland was shortlisted for the National Book Award for this year as well as longlisted for the Man Booker Award. It’s definitely something that you should read!