Book Thoughts: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

 

the Lowland

Isolation offered its own form of companionship

I closed this book with goosebumps on my flesh and a small ache in my heart. Jhumpa Lahiri is one hell of a writer.

The Lowland spans decades in the life of two very different brothers Subhash and Udayan who also grow up as best friends in Calcutta. They live on the edge of the Lowland where it comes to be a place of play and enjoyment, but also dark and haunted as the story progresses. The brothers do everything together and their bond is unbreakable. Until the boys turn to young men and each begins to develop separate interest and life ambitions which lead them to widely different paths. Subhash to Providence, Rhode Island to graduate school, and Udayan to politics as member of the Naxalite Movement in India.

Even after separation the brothers continue to keep in contact sending sporadic letters to each other in which Udyan keeps Subhash up to date on his political activities, and his spontaneous marriage to Gauri a young philosophy student. They continue on like this until tragic news of Udyan reaches Subuash and he returns to Calcutta to attempt to pick up the pieces of his brother’s life and to try to understand what happened in the Lowland.

The Naxalite movement began in the early 1960 and is still running. It’s a communist party heavily indoctrinated with Mao’s teachings and influences from Che and Fidel Castro to Marx. I knew nothing of this movement going into the book, so it was very educational in that sense. Lahiri’s way of introducing this bit of India’s history is ingrained seamlessly into the story, so that if you are like me and had never heard of it before, you won’t feel confused.Her writing is very accessible and never feels biased or text bookish.

Her writing as a whole is also  very idyllic, not overly poetic but enough to make me swoon over several passages. It’s also very descriptive.

Amid the gray, an incongruous band of daytime blue asserts itself. To the west, a pink sun already begins its descent. The effect is of three isolated aspects, distinct phases of the day. All of it, strewn across the horizon, is contained in his vision.

I have previously read The interpreter of Maladies her first collection of short stories which also won her the Pulitzer Prize, so I already knew a bit of what to expect. Similar to The Interpreter of Maladies, The Lowland gives the reader a close look at Indian culture specifically Indian culture in The U.S.A. At times it can be dark and serious, but is sprinkled with bits of humor.

From the first scene where Udayan takes the fall for both of their mischief you get a sense of what the brothers’ relationship is like. Udayan is wild and restless and not afraid to stand up to authority. Subhash tamer and complacent happy to let things go. This sets the tone for their lives as men and both of their characters. I wanted to comfort Subhash so many times while reading this book. He is a good man who wants the simple things. He wants a job he enjoys, and a family to come home to. He is also plagued with the notion that he must do the right thing and ironically that causes him more pain than joy. I was happy with the ending that he got though, and felt it due time he had some genuine happiness.

I was prepared to rip Gauri apart. The damage she caused because of her selfishness had me feeling nothing but daggers towards her. I don’t care how repentant or tortured she was what she does is inexcusable. I could rip her apart some more, however,I think where she is left in the novel is punishment enough.

The book’s ending is bittersweet. The very last passage just caused me to tear up a bit. It was lovely and raw at the same time.

Overall a very enjoyable read, If you want to start with Lahiri I would recommend her short story collection first, but The Lowland is certainly a good place to start.

 

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Book Thoughts: In The Woods By Tana French

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Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Human beings, as I know better than most, can get used to anything. Over time, even the unthinkable gradually wears a little niche for itself in your mind and becomes just something that happened.

Murder mysteries always make me feel like I missed my calling. I get a thrill from solving puzzles, I have earth shattering epiphanies all the time. My memory is solid, and my love for late night greasy food knows no bounds. See? I would have made a perfect detective

Then I remember I kind of have a weak stomach, so maybe I should just stick to reading awesome thrillers like In the Woods

In the Woods is the perfect blend of hard murder grit and eeriness that borderlines mystical at times. It grabs you and refuses to let go till the heart wrenching end. The book’s plot revolves around Rob (Adam) Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox both murder detectives for the Dublin squad. They get assigned the murder case of Katherine( Katy) Devlin, a twelve year old girl whose body was found in the woods near an archeological dig site. What is seemingly a routine case actually brings back haunted memories for Rob, because in these same woods, Rob’s best friends disappeared twenty years while he was found catatonic and with no memory of the events that lead to their disappearance. Now Rob attempt to solve two cases both for justice, and for the answers he’s been needing his whole life.

Tana French crafts a powerful punch from her writing to her characters. Even though I had to be up by 6:30 I was up till 3 reading because I just could not put the book down.I needed to know what happening. I cringed at the vivid descriptions of the murder of a twelve year old girl, and my flesh broke out in goosebumps thinking about those woods. This was a thriller in every sense of the world from psychological to emotional.

The plot is evenly spaced, although at times a little slow as Rob and Cassie follow leads that turn out to have nothing to do with the case, but that’s standard to crime. At first the crime has no concrete clues, then BAM it unfolds beautifully. Also, I kind of had a hunch about who the killer was, and I was so proud of myself when it turned out to be true! Again, I think I missed my calling.

Rob is a troubled character and you feel for him. It isn’t easy to go through what he went through. He knows he is full of flaws, and he makes tons of mistakes. Furthermore, he causes his own misery which he himself admits.

I had learned early to assume something dark and lethal hidden at the heart of anything I loved. When I couldn’t find it, I responded, bewildered and wary, in the only way I knew how: by planting it there myself.

I alternated between wanting to slap him or hug him. He is so… alone and haunted by his friends’ memory that he lets it seep into every facet of his present.

As for Cassie, she is a badass. She was hilarious, and smart and knew how to hold her own in a group full of “macho” men. I loved the banter between her and Rob and their friendship. The Likeness is the sequel to this book and it centers around her story, so I can’t wait to read it.

Now lets talk about that ending. Well not to much because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but What the hell was that?! I sincerely hope that French will revisit this at some point. I need her to!

Overall very well done. I recommend it to everyone!

Book Thoughts: Sula

Sula

There in the center of that silence was not eternity but the death of time and a loneliness so profound the word itself had no meaning.” 

After watching theJunot Diaz and Toni Morrison conversation that took place in December, which you can watch here.

(It’s long but worth it!) I was utterly fascinated by Toni Morrison. She is a name that I have heard my entire life. She was that author that I always said, “Yea, I’ll get around to reading her eventually” Yet for some reason I never did. When she and Junot Diaz began discussing Sula I just connected with everything she said, and I immediately bumped Sula to the top of my TBR pile.

Sula is a story of friendship between Sula Peace and Nel Wright. It has multiple themes such as, death, poverty, ethnicity, family, and motherhood, but the core theme is friendship mainly female friendship. The woman meet as young girls. Both girls live on the “Bottom” the poor colored section of the town of Medallion, Ohio. They share their joys and loneliness, and each becomes the other’s lifeline. Their friendship spans decades as the girls turn to women and form different lives, such as Nel becoming a wife and mother, and Sula leaving the Bottom for life in the city, however, through the years their friendship remains intact. Suddenly Sula returns to Medallion, and the women are finally reunited. However, their reunion turns bittersweet, and their friendship is tested for the first time.

Junot Diaz said something that struck a chord with me. He teaches at MIT and he asked his students to name literary friendships. Immediately his students can name at least 5 fictional friendships, however, typically these friendships are male. When they’re asked to name female friendships, his students are stuck. But there is one that most people can recall, and that is Nel and Sula’s. After I heard that, it got me thinking, and I realized he was right. I’m not saying female friendships don’t exist in literature, but try to quickly think about five off the top of your head. I hope you had better success than I did.

Sula and Nel’s friendship is not perfect. In fact, Sula is one of the most unlikable characters I have ever come across, and Nel was seriously lacking a back bone. Poor girl. However, I get their friendship. I understand their loyalty even when they’ve let each other down. I get their love even when they’ve done terrible things to each other. I get it because that is friendship. That is having a person in your heart no matter what they’ve done to you. It’s important to represent that friendships matters too. Every time I had a major fight with my best friend it hurt. Especially the big ones were you go some time without speaking. There are a million songs about breaking up with your lover, and as far as I knowI can only think of Amy Wineshouse’s “Best Friend”. If you know any more, than please send them my way.

Reading this book I was reminded of my own best friend. The one I’ve had since I was eleven. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years. We’ve had moments we were barely speaking. Our lives have changed so much over time, yet no matter how hurt or mad I was, it didn’t matter what new people I met, or the new adventures I was having. I missed her. Naturally as our ages change so do our time and our prioties, but we still make time for each other, and when we get together we can still make each other laugh like no one ever has before.

The point is friendships are powerful, and I’m glad this book focuses on that power.

Toni Morrison won a Nobel prize, so I know she doesn’t need me do PR for her, but I will anyway. Her writing is incredible -albeit dry a few times-, there were a few passages that my eyes glazed over and I had to back and re-read them. However, she knows how to get to the nitty gritty of humanity, and has the most eloquent way of saying the most simplest things.

In a way, her strangeness, her naiveté, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of an idle imagination. Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings, had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like an artist with no art form, she became dangerous.

It was a fine cry-loud and long-but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow

Yes, but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain’t that something? A a secondhand lonely.

I would have liked the story to show a bit more. For example, the girls spent some time apart, and it would have been interesting seeing their indivial years apart.

Overall a great read. I wish I would have read this book sooner, preferably in my high school years, but better late than never.