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.