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Book Review - The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (2013)

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Two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, were raised in Calcutta during the 50’s and 60’s, with Subhash being fifteen months older. Udayan involved himself in a political movement whose purpose was to seek and provide better living conditions for the poor of India, even if violence was necessary. The older Subhash, a peace-loving young man, worked hard to earn a scholarship which took him to Rhode Island in the United States to study science.

The Indian culture that prevailed permitted parents to choose a mate for their sons when the time for their marriages came about. The rebellious Udayan made his own choice of a lifetime partner, a girl named Gauri, and brought her home to live with his parents, as the culture also presumed. Udayan’s family was not welcoming to Gauri, which caused some stress to the newlyweds. Also, Udayan’s political activities did not sit well with either his parents or with Gauri, who overtly accepted his role in the movement.

                                                               

Map of India

                                                                               Map of India

After two years in the United States, Subhash received notice from his parents that Udayan had been killed. He rushed home to be of whatever help he could, and was startled that his parents did not speak to or eat with Gauri, and she was left to herself in her room. Her studies at the university were her only outlet. Subhash was then told that Gauri was pregnant with Udayan’s child.

Subhash felt responsible to take Gauri back to America where she would not be subjected to the archaic rules under which she was forced to live. Although Subhash experienced an attraction to the beautiful Gauri, she did not reciprocate. However, she finally agreed that it would be more practical for them to be married than just to live together, especially when the baby was soon to arrive.

“The Lowland” is a very sad tale, mainly because Gauri did not embrace motherhood happily when little Bela arrived. Her studies were her primary task, and Subhash willingly handled much of the task of raising Bela. He had even given up on the thought that Gauri would eventually return his love.

Thus, it was not unexpected when Gauri finally left their household, and made California her new home, by herself. Subhash and Bela had grown close to each other and were able to have a loving home together. Bela was not told that Subhash was not her real father, but that he was an uncle. Subhash felt guilty about this, but could not bring himself to tell her, feeling frightened of what it might do to their relationship.

      

Jhumpa Lahiri

                                                                    Author Jhumpa Lahiri

As stated, this novel is not a happy one, and it may be difficult for some readers to persevere. However, author Jhumpa Lahiri has such an expressive voice in explaining her characters and the settings in which they live, that one is propelled to continue, knowing that an easy solution is not forthcoming. I have never read a novel where I have felt such an intimate connection with the characters until I read “The Lowland.” They were very real to me.

“The Lowland” was on the short list for the Man Booker Award for 2013. Although it did not win, the book richly deserves the recognition it received from being short-listed.

The Lowland (Vintage Contemporaries)
Amazon Price: $15.95 $5.11 Buy Now
(price as of Mar 28, 2015)
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