THE LOWLAND by Jhumpa Lahiri

I have to thank the EDIWTB readers who commented on this post and urged me to keep reading The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. I picked it back up last week and finished it today. It was not my favorite Jhumpa Lahiri, but it is still very good.

The Lowland is about two brothers – Subhash and Udayan – who were born 15 months apart in India. Subhash was the conventional, obedient son who moved to American in his 20s to study oceanography. Udayan, the younger brother, got involved with an anti-establishment movement called the Naxalite movement in the late 60s. He maintained a double life – living with his parents and wife, Gauri, and teaching science at a high school, but was secretly involved with the movement, including being an accessory to the murder of an Indian policeman. Ultimately, Udayan is killed by the police, in front of his wife and parents.

Subhash returns to India when his brother is killed, where duty compels him to marry his widowed sister-in-law and bring her to America. The Lowland further explores this notion of duty – Subhash’s duty to Gauri, Gauri’s to Subhash, and the consequences of their keeping secret the circumstances under which they married.

Like Lahiri’s earlier work, The Lowland is told in a quiet, understated manner. Her characters may be flawed, but they are human and deeply sympathetic. The book is fused with sadness, as these characters experience heartbreak and loneliness for years on end. For the first time, though, I found some imperfections in Lahiri’s writing. Her characters already well-established, there was no need for passages at the end of the book that restated her characters’ histories (over and over). The Lowland needed a good edit. (Maybe that’s what happens when you’re a Pulitzer Prize winner – people assume your work doesn’t need editing?)

I enjoyed The Lowland and was moved by the story and characters. Lahiri propels the plot forward with subtle twists and moves among her characters seamlessly, offering different perspectives of the same events that enhance the richness of the novel. In the end, The Lowland was not my favorite Lahiri – it left me a little cold. But a not-favorite Lahiri is still a wonderful read. I recommend it and it was a great book to finish off 2013 (unless I fit in another book by next Tuesday).