[Book Review] The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The LowlandYou may have heard of Jhumpa Lahiri, she’s that extraordinary author that won a Pulitizer Prize in 2000 for her short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. You might have also read her novel The Namesakewhich then was adapted into a film with the same name. In only a short time, Jhumpa Lahiri has become a household name in literature. Her new novel The Lowland is in stores today and there is little doubt in my mind that it will achieve similar accolades as her previous work. By page 25, I quickly realized that the writing itself was so prolific and beautiful, that I had to start over again. I was scared I had missed something and this is the kind of novel that deserves a reader that notices every detail, every word, every apostrophe. 

Subhash and Udayan are brothers born in India, separated by a mere fifteen months and the spitting image of one another. Their appearance might be alike, but their personalities differ.

Since childhood Subhash had been cautious. His mother never had to run after him. While he stayed in clear view, Udayan was disappearing. Even in their two-room house, when he was a boy, he hid compulsively, under the bed, behind the doors, in the crate where winter quilts were stored.

The brothers don’t stay young for very long and the novel quickly progresses into their early twenties, when both men are trying to determine their future. Upon choosing different Universities, they, for the first time, are being separated. Born strong, independent men, they travel to their Universities ready to learn and of course, ready to grow into men. As many of you know, University is an institute to enhance your thinking, but it’s also a time for self discovery. Staying true to their personalities, Subhash is focused and sticks to the plan. Get educated and study, study, study. On the other hand, Udayan has a plan too, but gets involved in the mess happening in Naxalbari. Of course Jhumpa explains Udayan’s reasoning beautifully, but to give you a quick glimpse into the revolution taking place in the 1960’s in Naxalbari, India, I’m referring to Wikipedia for clarification of the revolt,

Naxalbari became famous for being the site of a left-wing poor peasants uprising in 1967, which began with the “land to tiller” slogan, an uprising continuing to this day (see Naxalite).

The “Naxalbari” incident was triggered on 25 May 1967 at Bengai Jote village in Naxalbari when the police opened fire on a group of villagers who were demanding their right to the crops at a particular piece of land. The firing killed 9 adults and 2 unknown children.

To say that Udayan’s involvement is wrong would be incorrect, but in the eyes of his older brother, he didn’t quite understand. Of course, he believed the revolution that was taking place was wrong, but Subhash just didn’t feel as strongly as Udayan did to actually protest. Their paths continue to separate when Subhash heads off to America, Rhode Island specifically, to further his education, while Udayan stays in Calcutta with his family and his new wife Gauri. A wife that his parents don’t necessarily approve off, but have to accept because, what’s done is done.Jhumpa

Then the unimaginable happens and a scene takes place that will forever will stay in the reader’s mind. If I were to tell you what happens, it would be robbing you of a story that deserves to be told by Jhumpa Lahiri. What I can tell you is that your travels with these two brothers span from young boys to men with gained experience. T’s will be crossed, I’s will be dotted and you’ll get an explanation for every question you might have while reading. I’m a big fan of this kind of writing, because I like closing a book without having unanswered questions. It’s a story that gives you extreme detail and so much context that sometimes it can get to be a bit overwhelming, because you’ll appreciate the fact that she’s always willing to “go there”.

The Lowland is a story of family, commitment and love. More importantly, it defines the role of what it means to be a brother. You’ll be reading trying to figure out if you’d do the same thing, if you’d be able to handle the situation any differently. This novel is a testament to Jhumpa Lahiri’s accolades and there is no doubt in my mind that she’ll achieve even more success when everyone reads this outstanding novel.

*The Lowland is currently on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, along with fellow nominees:

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2 thoughts on “[Book Review] The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

  1. tanya says:

    I just started this last night, so I just skimmed what you had to say – didn’t want any spoilers. So far i’m loving it. India is a very political place and Naxalites are always in the news, so I’m interested in Lahiri’s take on it. Now, I got to go and get reading!

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